Please have your interviewees read this information BEFORE you conduct your interview
America prides itself in being the land of the free and the home of the brave, a place where opportunities are endless and every person can pursue his or her dreams. It is a place that values equality, acceptance, and freedom for all. Has it always been such a place? Consider how the following documents from our history promote or lack tolerance.
1776: The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence established not only our independence from Britain, but also the foundational ideal of equality for all.
The preamble of the Declaration states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident:
That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
This foundational document promotes tolerance by declaring that all people are equal and are given rights that cannot be taken away.
1787: The United States Constitution
The United States Constitution, a mere four-page document, established the branches of the government and each one’s responsibilities to the people. The preamble of the Constitution states:
“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 America.”
Phrases like “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” “promote the general Welfare,” and “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” all are foundational to the ideas of tolerance, acceptance, and equality.
1791: Bill of Rights
Initially, the Constitution was primarily concerned with the establishment of the government rather than the individual rights of the people. However, the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments, guarantees some important individual rights that promote equality and tolerance.
Amendment 1 in particular guarantees freedom of religion, press, and expression. This amendment encourages toleranceby giving everyone an equal voice and the opportunity to believe and express themselves as they wish.
1865: Amendment 13
Amendment 13 reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
This important Amendment ended slavery in the United States; it did not guarantee tolerance, but it provided the first step toward equality and acceptance.
1868: Amendment 14
This Amendment states that anyone born or naturalized in the United States, except Native Americans, is a citizen and that no state can take away one’s national citizenship. As citizens, everyone should have access to life, liberty, property, and equal protection of the laws. This idea promotestolerance and equality for many people.
While this Amendment established important rights and protection for citizens, it specifically denies citizenship to a particular group of people, Native Americans.
1870: Amendment 15
Five years after slavery was abolished, Amendment 15 was added to the Constitution. It states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
This Amendment made it illegal to deny the right to vote to anyone based on their race or their history as a slave. Providing this important right was another step toward tolerance and equality.
1920 : Amendment 19
This Amendment guarantees women the right to vote. Women fought for many years to be recognized as equal citizens and were granted the right to cast their votes in 1920. As with the other amendments that granted voting rights, Amendment 19 did not grant immediate tolerance, but it provided the beginning.
1924 : The Snyder Act
This act, also known as the Indian Citizenship Act, granted full United States citizenship to Native Americans. This act granted this people group protection and the right to vote under the 15th Amendment.
Again, the act and the Amendment did not guarantee tolerancein the larger community, but it gave more people a voice and encouraged acceptance.
1971: Amendment 26
Amendment 26 grants the right to vote to anyone 18 and older. Prior to this Amendment being added to the Constitution, citizens had to be 21 to vote. The Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
This Amendment encourages tolerance and acceptance of young adults, individuals who previously had no voting voice but carried responsibilities of a citizen such as paying taxes and fighting for the country.
1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964
This significant piece of legislation made discrimination, including racial segregation, illegal. The Act was based on the 14th Amendment (the government has a duty to guarantee all citizens equal protection under the law) and the 15th Amendment (the government has a duty to protect voting rights for all citizens).
This Act encouraged tolerance and acceptance in all areas of society: schools, workplaces, doctors’ offices, churches, and courtrooms. The Act did not guarantee instant acceptance, but like the Amendments to the Constitution, it made intolerance illegal, which seems often to be the first step toward tolerance and equality.
1990 : Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that makes discrimination of those with disabilities illegal. This group of people has often been the victim of intolerance, and their needs had not been addressed prior to this Act. The Act is based on the 14th Amendment (the government has a duty to guarantee all citizens equal protection under the law).
Excerpts of this important Act read:
The Congress finds that
(5) individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities;
It is the purpose of this chapter
(1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
How different is our society today than it was two hundred years ago? Do you find it more or less tolerant? Are there any people that are still treated unfairly? As you consider these questions, think about the role of the Constitution and the law in promoting and ensuring tolerance among the citizens of America.