Thursday, June 01, 2006

Episcopalians Consider Giving Reparations to Black Members et al

Episcopalians Consider Giving Reparations to Black Members - AP

Religion Today - AP

While reparations are on the minds of Episcopalians preparing to meet in June, Blacks and Whites, in general are lined up squarely for and against reparations. An earlier CNN/Gallup poll shows Blacks in favor by 6 to 4, with Whites opposed by 9 to 1.

However, it is restitution, a form of reparations, which is being more hotly debated and enacted, even as we speak of full reparations. The actionable character of restitution has propelled it as the lead-in tactic of reparations advocates, ahead of a hoped-for national reparation showdown.

The willingness of some municipalities to take action, in the form of slavery-era disclosure requirements, has the effect of forcing companies to self-incriminate and plead guilty in the court-of-public-opinion, as a condition for their continued good standing to conduct normal business with those municipalities.

These disclosures, with various forms of payment, have occurred even though the companies that engaged in the slavery-related activities did so at a time when it was indeed legal, and no court has or is even considering sanctions. This influence by city governments amounts reasonably to coercion, a kind of municipal vigilantism.

Even with concerns and issues around the growing requirements, many city governments, across the country, are pushing ahead with disclosure referendums. Companies are paying compensation to Black organizations and programs to avoid appearing unrepentant for the actions of their corporate ancestors. But what role should laws play?

Someone who pays restitution is normally giving up unjust gains back to the claimant, motivated by the potential for, or a direct order of, the court due to the claimant’s reasonable legal basis, by the causative events of either unjust enrichment or wrongful damages. The wrongs, however, that companies are atoning for are measured squarely against modern day morality and statues, and not that of the time when the events occurred. It is this revision of the criteria, under which past behaviors are judged, that is illogical, following the auspices of ‘two wrongs can not make a right’.

Our legal system and its jurisdiction in these matters, limited as it is, should not be circumvented. This is a degenerative form of manipulation. Once the law’s effectiveness is thus weakened, this intrusion increases the opportunity for continuing reduction and non-compliance, and a further loss of constitutional protection.

If it is true that these companies should pay restitution, then it is a matter of the courts, not city officials, to decide who should pay, to whom they owe their debt, and the form and amount of any such payment. Adjudication should be carried out under the watchful eye of the public, and with the full protection of our laws, including the appeal process.

James C. Collier


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