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  • Reverend James Squire

Access Defines Justice

I had summer duty during two summers as priest in charge in a parish on Peake’s Island, Maine, off the coast of Portland. We were provided with housing and enjoyed the experience. The only way to reach Peake’s Island was by car/person ferry. The Island contained an interesting group of people including the editor of the local Portland newspaper. It was an eclectic group.

We would periodically take the ferry to Portland which is a wonderful town. It seemed that there were people in wheelchairs wherever we went. Quite frankly it made me happy to know that there must be a large facility for disabled people in the area. I could never remember seeing such a large group of disabled people moving around a community doing what everyone else was doing.

I asked one of the Peake’s Island residents to tell me about the home for disabled people in the area. The person told me that there isn’t one. I continued that I had never seen so many disabled people moving throughout a community and thought it was terrific.

Then the islander told me the real story of why I saw so many disabled folks out and about. The city of Portland made a decision to intentionally provide ACCESS for all disabled people. I then noticed that all the busses were equipped with special lifts and businesses had special entryways to make it easy for the disabled to have the same freedom that the rest of us had. There were not more disabled people. There was more access for disabled people. Everyone celebrated the equal access for all.

It is the day after the Republicans voted against even debating the new voting rights bill put forward by the Democratic party. Each party has accused the other of suppressing the vote or doing something illegal. Mitch McConnell says that voting procedures cannot be taken over by the federal government because it is up to the states to make those decisions. Chuck Schumer says that the Republicans have created laws in states with a Republican majority in the statehouses to stifle access for black and brown voters.

Access is a key work in ethics, and so is making sure that things are done fairly. Access is one of those key ingredients that defines one of the key pillars of ethics which is justice. Make no mistake about it. Now the debate has focused on power. Who has it? How do I make sure that I can get it? I have heard the expression used that this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an American peoples’ issue. We need to change the conversation to justice.

The people of Portland weren’t concerned about who was going to be elected because of this change that brought about equal access for the disabled. They concluded that it was the right and just thing to do. To the best of my knowledge no one complained that because the disabled had more freedom to move around that one group would have power and another wouldn’t.

Justice is defined as love in Situation Ethics. The two words should be interchangeable in any quest for a solution to a problem. Love, in turn, is not some Hollywood version of romantic love. Love means to “will the neighbor’s good.” This means that we act in what is in the best interest of others without regard for power. Think that can’t be done because it seems unworkable? I think it can!. Just ask the people of Portland who decided that access is good for all and the answer to that fundamental moral question, “Am I my brother’s or sister’s keeper?” They said, “Yes!” Washington needs to do the same.

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