With Liberty and Justice for All

She was once one of America’s darlings.  Every weekday morning she was smiling at us as a co-anchor on one of America’s most highly rated morning news programs, the Today Show.  Nowadays, Katie Couric reports for Yahoo News.  She’s taken her genial style to the internet and the content she provides is worth checking out sometimes.

Recently, she did a wide ranging interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In recent days this interview was picked up by the folks at CNN and more widely distributed. They touched on many topics.  Katie made sure to disarm and show a measure of empathy to the Supreme Court Justice as she spoke to the great regard Justice Ginsburg held for the recently departed Justice Antonin Scalia. Couric acknowledged Ginsburg’s grief at having lost her “best buddy” on the Supreme Court.  This may be surprising to Americans who know her reputation as the so called “liberal” standard bearer on the Supreme court and Scalia’s reputation for having been known as the staunchest “conservative” on the court.

As the interview continued Katie summed up her own observations about their relationship. It was summed up so beautifully that I thought the interview could have ended at that point and would have been a wonderful testimony to how we might live out that line in our pledge of allegiance to the flag that says we are, “one nation, under God with liberty and justice for all.”  In so saying we are admitting we are one nation, though many races and cultures and opinions and points of view.  Katie said that Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg were the, “personification of the notion that you can disagree with someone or have opposing views about an issue and still be respectful, friendly and even loving towards each other.”  The two great jurists shared time together on the court of appeals in Washington D.C. before their respective appointments to the Supreme Court.  They had a mutual love of fine wine, opera and family, we learned in that interview.  

We also learned the interview was not bound to end on such a high note.  Before long Katie moved to a subject in the news currently.  It was the subject of  what Justice Ginsburg thought of the peaceful national anthem protests spearheaded by NFL San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick and taken up by other NFL players.  Ginsburg admitted she thinks their actions are “dumb and disrespectful” and that if “they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive.  If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that.  What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”

Our first Amendment says that all Americans have the right of free speech and it shall not be abridged.  Early on as Kaepernick began protesting I thought it was a stunt myself.  I thought he was merely trying to draw attention to the decision the team had made to bench him in favor of a new starting quarterback.  As we began to hear him articulate the reasons he was peacefully protesting in this way and as other players began to also talk about why they have joined the protest I changed my mind.  I am grateful for these protests here in America seeking to call attention to the oppression of people who share my skin color, my minority status, my hopes and aspirations and my gender.

And I am glad to know someone like Ginsburg is on the Supreme Court in spite of how she expressed her disdain for the NFL protesters.  We must be careful, in America, especially as minorities, to name those times and places when stereotyping and stigmatizing hurt us all.  When she used the term, “dumb” to pair with “disrespectful” it sounded like all those times when we’ve heard athletes referred to as “dumb jocks.”  Surely, Justice Ginsburg knows how this hurts to see and hear in print and in the media.  I believe there is sincerity and thoughtfulness behind these protests.  

In the very same interview she went on to say, “I’m proud of the US as a country that welcomes all sorts of people.”  I am too, Justice Ginsburg.  My hope is that as we express our many points of view when we disagree we can do so without playing into prevailing notions that are neither nice nor helpful in advancing our plight domestically or internationally.  Sanober Kahn said, “Words are powerful forces of nature.”  Indeed words are.  May we all take time and care to choose our words wisely.

- Rev Dr. James Ellis Fouther, Jr.

Born and raised in Chicago, Reverend Dr. James Fouther is ordained in the United Church of Christ. He has served the United Church of Montbello in Denver since March of 2003.