Justice is an interesting word because it is also a concept, that is, an idea we can work with and shape to suit our circumstances and the place. We would like to think that justice is simply “fair play” or “equality” for all. We would hope that justice is something innate, something we are born understanding. But, unfortunately, we have to be taught how to practice equality and justice.
There are many occasions in civic meetings where the people rise and pledge allegiance to the flag of our country. The final words of the pledge say, “with liberty and justice for all.” Whenever I pledge allegiance I add the words “I hope so,” at the end. Whether as individuals or as a group we are making a promise that all people who come under the flag will be granted that fair play.
The word has many levels of promise — justice for all races of people and not just justice at the whim of the person in control. Justice either is or it isn’t. Everyone gets fair play. Everyone. Maybe I am just a stickler for fair play. No one has the right to push people around because they have more money or position or control. Justice is as big an issue on the play ground as it is in the Supreme Court of the United States. It is in the Supreme Court men and women are called to adjudicate our Constitution where we read the words:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of …
These are promises, pledges the people of this country make to each other. We dare not give up these responsibilities of citizenship. They are far too important and left to a few will result in something it was never meant to be. Reading U.S. History we learn of “Jim Crow” justice in the South which often meant a hanging without a trial; or in California where the migrant workers were exploited and used to benefit the man who owned the property; or during the Indian Wars when people defending their own land were driven out and slaughtered for gold or buffalo or land. Indigenous people in other parts of the world have received the same unequal treatment. Here again the call is to establish justice for all. No one gets a free ride, no one gets to re-write the rules for themselves. When I was growing up the idea of “fair play” meant everyone had the opportunity to be held accountable, and the responsibility to participate in the development of justice not only for the wealthy and well-born, but for the common person as well.
Scripture, especially the Old Testament, takes justice very seriously. The prophet Micah speaks of a three-pronged approach to living: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. The prophet Amos pairs justice and righteousness (Amos 5.24) as equal partners in the life of a good person.
To be white in this world is to be given a different access to justice and fair play than someone of another color. To be a woman of any color is to know that justice is not meted out in like manner between men and women. To be a person of color is to learn that almost everything you do is suspect and you can be the most honest, forward-thinking individual, well-educated and hard working, but because your color is slightly different, the justice you receive will be different.
There are many words which give us pause for thought, but justice is a rowdy, active, “in-your-face” word. Justice is not ours on a silver platter, but is given only when we have struggled and prevailed. To demand Justice is to only demand what is ours by natural right.