Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution declares, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In a recent Supreme Court decision, the “equal protection of the laws” was utilized to strike down affirmative action programs. Even though this decision had a pronounced influence on the future of race-based remediations, our recent letter (“Equal rights under the law? Prove it,” July 26) specifically dealt with the much larger and serious issue of past and present historical wrongs perpetrated against our minority citizens, who were, indeed, not afforded “life, liberty, or property, without due process” or “equal protection of the laws.” We provided several past examples of injustices against Japanese Americans, Black Americans and Indigenous peoples, and included a current voting rights case in Alabama.

At times, Section 1 of the 14th Amendment is erroneously confused with the Equal Rights Amendment (yet to be ratified). Section 1 of the latter states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Within the confines of our present discussion, all United States citizens, regardless of sex, must be included under the umbrella of equal rights and protections under the law.

In some instances, there may exist some confusion with respect to the differences between “protections” and “rights.” In an elementary sense, protections are “a legal or other formal measure intended to preserve civil liberties and rights” (Oxford Languages Dictionary). Along the same lines, “Constitutional rights are the protections and liberties guaranteed to the people by the United States Constitution” ( Both definitions, therefore, run somewhat parallel to each other and, at times, intersect in their application.

The preceding explanations of the 14th Amendment, ERA, protections and rights offer an interesting segue way into two topics under current discussion: Critical Race Theory and “The 1619 Project.” These two entities were developed to assist this nation with understanding the foundations of racism and its effect on minority populations. CRT, according to Wikipedia, “is devoted to analyzing how laws, social and political movements and media shape and are shaped by social conceptions of race and ethnicity.” CRT “also considers racism to be systematic in various laws and rules, and not only based on individuals’ prejudices.” “The 1619 Project” is “focused on subjects of slavery and the founding of the United States,” also from Wikipedia. These two endeavors will aid in our more complete understanding of how racism continues to prevent this country from providing true equality among all its citizens.

Our past and present history are replete with examples of systemic racism, injustices inflicted upon minorities of all sexes, and the unequal application of protections and rights under the law, which were crafted and, thereafter, intended for all of our citizens. Therefore, our more in-depth and complete knowledge of these injustices will allow us to forge a renewed effort to correct these historical wrongs by providing “real” protections and rights under the law for all citizens.

The discussion of racism is difficult, emotional, but needed to understand the past and present, and to develop the means to eradicate it from society. The first step in this difficult process is to accept the fact that racism has occurred, is occurring. The second step is the creation of mechanisms to ensure that all citizens have equal rights and protections under the law without exceptions.

John Mishler and Sigrid R.E. Fischer-Mishler are residents of Harpswell.

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