Human Rights Are Our Rights, Right?
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Voting Rights As Human Rights

Friday, November 9th, 2012

More than fifty years ago Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote powerful words about citizenship and human rights:  “Citizenship is man’s basic right, for it is nothing less than the right to have rights.”  Earlier, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, prepared by a group which prominently included Eleanor Roosevelt, proclaimed that, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Yet the right to vote as a human right has had a checkered history in our country.  Early on, only people owning a certain amount of property could vote.  Sometimes, if one held property in two counties, one could vote in each.  Only adult males could vote. Slaves, of course, could not vote, and in most states before the Civil War, including those in the North, free African Americans could not vote or, as in New York, they had to own a specified amount of property while white males could vote without owning property.  It took two Constitutional amendments, the 14th and 15th, enacted just after the Civil War, to make African Americans U. S.  citizens and to prohibit states from restricting their vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  Some states evaded the Constitution by establishing literacy requirements which applied to blacks but not to whites (“grandfather clauses”) or which required voters to show an ability to interpret the state constitution to the satisfaction of a local registrar—who strangely found that African Americans always failed while whites always passed this particular hurdle. Women did not gain the vote at the national level until 1920, taking the 19th Amendment to enable them, though some states had done so earlier.  Eighteen-year-olds (“old enough to fight, old enough to vote”) had to wait until the 26th Amendment allowed them to do so in 1971. And, of course, the right to vote ordinarily applied only to citizens.  American Indians living on reservations didn’t achieve this status until 1924, and some states dragged their feet about Native American voting until the 1940s.

Even for those eligible to vote, some states used poll taxes to limit voting, until the 24th Amendment won ratification in 1964.  This practice deliberately targeted less affluent citizens and could be manipulated (and was) by the more prosperous who sometimes paid the tax for their tenants or dependents to inflate their own influence in elections.  In other instances, local jurisdictions used strict residency and registration requirements to restrict otherwise eligible citizens, especially those who changed addresses frequently or could not leave work to register during “bankers’ hours.”  Once, in a New York City municipal election, officials decreed that the only day voters could register was on Yom Kippur, a Jewish Holiday on which the faithful were forbidden to undertake public activities.  Special laws had to be passed to enable soldiers away from home to vote, in 1942; to place states with a history of racial discrimination under federal supervision, in 1965; and to ease the voter registration process by linking it to driver’s license renewal or application for social or disability services, in 1993.

In sum, voting rights as human rights have long been contested, and denied.  Those who believe in “universal and equal suffrage” must be constantly vigilant about attempts to keep their fellow citizens from voting.

–Roland Guyotte

Roland Guyotte is a Professor of History at UMM and a member of the Morris Human Rights Commission.

This article is part of a 15-week series on human rights organized by the Morris Human Rights Commission to celebrate their 15th anniversary. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Morris Human Rights Commission, but of individual members and contributors, as the HRC advocates free speech and discussion. 

Human Rights Commission Responds

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

The Morris Human Rights Commission would like to thank those of you who have taken the time to contact us in regards to Jeff Miller’s recent article published in the Sun Tribune. It should be noted that the Morris Human Rights Commission advocates free speech and does not censor its members. That being said, we would like to make it clear that the article written by Mr. Miller represented his own personal opinions on marriage, and not those of the MHRC or other members. To clarify Mr. Miller’s position with the MHRC, as is the case with all City commissions, he was appointed by the Morris City Council as their representative to sit the Commission.

In honor of our 15th Anniversary as a Commission our arrangement was to provide 15 weeks worth of articles written by members and/or guest writers on topics related to human rights. In hindsight (which of course is 20/20), we should have included a disclaimer with each article stating that the opinions expressed are those of individuals, and do not necessarily reflect those of the MHRC. Going forward, this will be done, but that does not remedy or undo what has already been published and the affects it has had on community members, and for that we are truly sorry and apologize.

Although members of the Commission disagree with Mr. Miller on this matter, we do believe that he is also entitled to his opinion. However, his opinion should not have been portrayed as that of the Human Rights Commission. The Morris Human Rights Commission is committed to having the city of Morris known as an inclusive community that values diversity, protects the rights of all individuals, and strives to meet the needs of all individuals. Unfortunately, due to oversight on our part, this article did not represent our mission and commitment to helping ensure human rights for all.

Members of the Commission are open to having a conversation with you or others who would like to discuss this further. The full Commission meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 5pm at the Common Cup. These meetings are open to the public. Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, our next meeting will be Wednesday, November 14.

Thank you all for standing up for what you believe in and helping to hold us accountable when a mistake has been made. This is the basis for helping to protect human rights for all of us!

Please feel free to share this information with others as appropriate.


The Marriage Amendment: What it Means for Minnesota

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

As Election Day approaches, the Morris Human Rights Commission would like to share with you the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) official statement on the proposed Marriage Amendment. The MDHR is a neutral state agency that investigates charges of illegal discrimination, ensures that businesses seeking state contracts are in compliance with equal opportunity requirements, and strives to eliminate discrimination by educating Minnesotans about their rights and responsibilities under the state Human Rights Act.

In the November 2012 election, Minnesota’s voters will be asked to decide whether to amend Minnesota’s Constitution to permanently limit the freedom to marry for same sex couples in our state. The question on the ballot will read: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only the union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”

In vetoing the proposal to put the Amendment on November’s ballot, Governor Mark Dayton urged Minnesotans to reject the Amendment, calling it divisive, un-Minnesotan and un-American. The Governor noted that the authors of our Declaration of Independence intended that governments be formed to secure every citizen’s rights, not to selectively deny them or take them away. The U.S. Constitution guarantees all Americans equal rights and protections under the law, and that would clearly include the right of a citizen to marry the person he or she loves, Governor Dayton believes.

Whether Minnesotans vote no or yes on this Amendment, there will be no change in Minnesota law regarding same sex marriage – same sex couples will still be unable to legally marry. But a yes vote will permanently and unnecessarily change Minnesota’s Constitution. It will constitutionally limit the freedom of same sex couples to ever marry in Minnesota, and prevent future generations from participating in a conversation about marriage and who should be able to make this lifelong commitment.

A no vote will simply allow the conversation to move forward, and Minnesotans to continue to examine the issues with the guidance of lawmakers, business leaders, clergy, advocates of both sides of the issue, and their own hearts.

This is an important conversation – for the sake of freedom and equal rights, for the welfare of our children and our society, and for Minnesota’s economy. In the past few months, a growing number of Minnesota business leaders have spoken out, calling the Marriage Amendment bad for Minnesota’s business climate. An environment that respects diversity and is welcoming to everyone is essential for Minnesota companies to recruit and hire the very best talent. But the Marriage Amendment sends the wrong message, and would make it more difficult for our companies to compete and our economy to grow. Those are among the reasons that leaders of world-class Minnesota companies including General Mills, Carlson Companies, St. Jude Medical, and Thomson Reuters have strongly opposed the Amendment.

Others who have spoken out in opposition to the Amendment include health professionals, from the Minnesota Nurses Association to the Minnesota Psychological Association, to the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. If to business leaders, the Marriage Amendment is an economic issue, to these medical professions, it’s a public health issue. Simply put, the Amendment “would be harmful to the health and well-being of children and adolescents,” these pediatricians say. They point out that those in the GLBT community risk bullying and violence as result of discrimination, and amending the State’s Constitution to limit their freedom to marry could add to the social stigma they face every day.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Edward P. Ehlinger also considers the Marriage Amendment a major public health issue. “Marriage can be a significant contributor to better physical and mental health regardless of sexual orientation,” Commissioner Ehlinger pointed out in a recent commentary in the Star Tribune. In the view of Minnesota’s top public health official, the increasing evidence of the health benefits of marriage “highlights the fact that, from a health perspective, it is unacceptable to deny the benefits of marriage to any committed couple.”

Marriage is about love, commitment and responsibility. These are core values that provide stability to families and entire communities. Minnesota’s same sex couples seek to make the same commitment and share in the same joys and responsibilities as opposite sex couples. In joining with business and civic leaders, our governor, and thousands of other Minnesotans in opposing this Amendment, all they ask is that this important conversation about the role of marriage continue, and that they be allowed to make their case.

You can read more about the Minnesota Department of Human Rights online at Next week’s article will focus on one Commission member’s perspective on marriage.

Stopping Bullying Helps Protect Our Communities

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

The League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions recognizes October as National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children involving a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and those who bully others may have serious, lasting effects. Bullying remains a serious issue within our society, with some statistics citing up to 77% of students admitting to being the victims of some type of bullying. Bullying can include various types of behavior from physical attacks, to destroying one’s personal property or clothing, verbal abuse, starting rumors, name calling, and verbal attacks online as well as other forms of cyberbullying.

In February 2012, Governor Mark Dayton established a Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, of which the Minnesota Office of Human Rights is a member. The purpose is to ensure that all students in Minnesota schools are provided with a safe and welcoming environment wherein each student is accepted and valued in order to maximize each student’s learning potential. Inherent with this responsibility is the assurance that all students will be equally protected, specifically as it relates to bullying, harassment, and intimidation, while engaging in educational pursuits.

The Task Force gathers written and public comments from students, parents, and citizens who have been impacted by bullying, harassment, and intimidation, as well as the testimony of professionals in relevant fields throughout the state and nation, and advises the Governor of recommendations for immediate and urgent action. These recommendations can apply to both students and adults who should be protected from bullying, and who deserve an educational environment in which to participate and thrive. (The full report and recommendations can be found online on the Minnesota Department of Human Rights website at This is an incredibly important step towards a safer future for all citizens of our state!

So what can we do to help prevent and stop bullying locally? Bullying CAN be prevented, especially when the power of a community is brought together. Community-wide strategies can help identify and support children who are bullied, redirect the behavior of children who bully, and change the attitudes of adults and youth who tolerate bullying behaviors in peer groups, schools, and communities.

Bullying doesn’t happen only at school. Community members can use their unique strengths and skills to prevent bullying wherever it occurs. For example, youth sports groups may train coaches to prevent bullying. Local businesses might make t-shirts with bullying prevention slogans for an event. School staff might read books about bullying and discuss them. Hearing anti-bullying messages from the different adults in their lives can reinforce the message that bullying is unacceptable.

Encourage anyone who wants to learn about bullying and reduce its impact in our communities to get involved. Consider our local businesses, associations, and adults who work directly with children, parents, and families. Identify partners such as mental health specialists, law enforcement officers, local organizations, service groups, faith-based groups. Ask about what types of bullying community members see and discuss developing targeted solutions. And don’t forget to involve youth! Teens can take leadership roles in bullying prevention among younger children.

Work is being done locally, but we can always do more. The most important thing we can do is talk to our youth and each other to get some of these important conversations going. Some conversation starters might be asking: Who do you think is most affected? Where? What kinds of bullying do you see happening here? How do the kids and adults you see react? What is already being done here in our communities to help? Consider hosting or attending open forums like group discussions with community leaders, businesses, parent groups, and churches to help get information and resources out to those who need them. Tons of information is available from our local schools and organizations like Someplace Safe, and even more can be found online. The Minnesota Department of Health ( and sites like are great places to do some research so you are prepared to help your family, friends and neighbors. Bullying dosen’t have to be a reality for our future generations, especially if we work together to stop it!

Stay tuned for next week’s article on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and its connection to Human Rights.

–Becki Jordan

Becki Jordan, Director of Development at Someplace Safe, is the Chair of the Morris Human Rights Commission.


What is the Minnesota Human Rights Act?

Monday, October 15th, 2012

The Morris Human Rights Commission is concerned with human rights in our local community.  We derive our definitions from the Minnesota Human Rights Act which originated in the Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination several decades ago.  The Minnesota Department of Human Rights was established in 1967.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act has established thirteen protected classes of people—groups who may have specific characteristics–who may not be discriminated against.  These categories include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, public assistance, age, sexual orientation, familial status, and local human rights commission activity.

For example someone on public assistance who may not be discriminated against for that reason might include someone on Medicaid, using food stamps, on supplemental security income (SSI), using federal Section 8 housing assistance, low income home energy assistance, or participating in the National School Lunch Program’s free lunch program.

Some limitations apply.  For example not every injury or illness amounts to “disability.”  Age discrimination applies primarily to employment and education—and if a child under 18 wishes to file a discrimination charge, they must have a parent or a legal guardian do it for them.  Familial status—that is, whether someone has children under 18 years old living with them—is protected only with respect to housing.  And members of local human rights commissions are protected only against discrimination in employment.

There are several “protected areas” where discrimination is not allowed.  These include employment, housing, public accommodations, public service, education, credit, and business.  Employment includes where you work, or a job you are applying for.  Housing includes renting an apartment or buying a house.  Public accommodations include any place generally open to the public, such as grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and day care.  Examples of public services include state parks, city buses, libraries, police and fire departments, and city, county, and state departments of health.  Educational institutions include any public or private school, or college, university, or trade school.  Credit refers to organizations that give loans, such as a bank or a credit union.  And if you own a business, the law says that other businesses cannot discriminate against you.

The many categories of the Minnesota Human Rights Act remind us of the ways in which discrimination may affect our neighbors and ourselves.  The law is complex, has been amended many times, and its parts tell a story of the history of how Minnesotans have interacted with each other over the years.  Knowing something about the law helps us educate ourselves about the challenges we may face and the opportunities we have to help ensure human rights protections for everyone.  Further information about the Minnesota Human Rights is available online at

Stay tuned for next week’s article on the topic of bullying.

–Roland Guyotte

Roland Guyotte, a history professor at UMM, is a member of the Morris Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Right Here at Home

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

This week, the Morris Human Rights Commission would like to share some information with you on the variety of ways that each of us, as community members, can get involved with human rights. Human rights are commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. Many of us often take these rights for granted, which is why groups like local Human Rights Commissions, state Human Rights Leagues, nonprofit organizations, and designated State Departments exist to help monitor issues that arise and ensure that all citizens and their rights are protected.

How can you get involved in helping to protect our rights? Start by doing some research. A quick search of the internet or our local library is a great place to begin. You will find thousands of organizations, books, and other materials focusing on hundreds of issues surrounding human rights. If you have a special area of interest or concern, you might want to start there and see what you can find. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (, and the Advocates for Human Rights ( are two resources right here in Minnesota with a wealth of information to help you get started.

Another great way to learn more about these issues is by asking questions and talking with others. You may be surprised by the things you learn simply by listening. This is exactly how the MHRC monitors and addresses human rights concerns locally. Only by talking with members of the community and providing a supportive ear when issues arise are we then able to address concerns and help find possible solutions.

So now you’re ready to get involved, but wondering where to begin? The Morris Human Rights Commission has two ways for you to take the first step in helping to protect our human rights while also educating others. The MHRC is currently searching for community members who would like to join the Commission. A short application is available at the Morris City Office, and on our website at If you are interested, be sure to apply. We would love to have you join in this important work!

Another exciting way you can get involved locally is by participating in our Morris Human Rights Commission Logo Contest. The MHRC is looking for submissions from any and all individuals who have an idea for a logo that represents both the importance of human rights, and our local community. Submissions are being accepted now through November 30, 2012. ANYONE in the Morris and surrounding communities are eligible to enter! We encourage area elementary and high school students to submit entries with the help and/or assistance of an adult, and are reaching out to University of Minnesota, Morris students to submit entries as well. ANYONE is eligible to participate in this contest.

Full contest rules can be found on our website or picked up at the Morris City Office. The Morris Human Rights Commission will announce the winner of the logo contest on January 21, 2013 at UMM’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Event. The winner of the Morris Human Rights Commission Logo Contest will receive $100 in Morris Area Chamber Cash, and the notoriety of having your design displayed on the Morris Human Rights Commission website and most other print materials. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

So remember this quote from Hellen Keller, I’m only one person and I can’t do everything. But I can do something. I will not let the fact that I can’t do everything prevent me from doing what I can, and get involved in helping to protect human rights where you can. Next week’s article will focus on the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and what it means for us as citizens.

Becki Jordan – Morris Human Rights Commission Chair

We’re Looking For A Logo! Can YOU Help?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Morris Human Rights Commission Logo Contest and Rules

In honor of our 15th Anniversary, the Morris Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is seeking the assistance of the public in designing a new logo for the Commission. The logo should incorporate imagery representing human rights in Morris, as well as the “Morris Human Rights Commission” name. Further information pertaining to the Morris Human Rights Commission may be found on the Commission’s website:

Purpose of the Rules: These rules set forth, and will govern, the Morris Human Rights Commission logo contest through which a design will be chosen by current members of the Morris Human Rights Commission, subject to approval by the Morris City Council.

Contest Deadlines: The contest to select the design for the Morris Human Rights Commission logo will officially open on Monday, September 24th. Contest submissions should be turned in at the Morris City Office, Attn: Becki Jordan, 609 Oregon Ave, Morris MN 56267, and should have MHRC LOGO CONTEST clearly marked on the package or envelope. Entries must be received by NOON on Friday, November 30th, or postmarked by Thursday, November 29th.

Contest eligibility: ANYONE in the Morris and surrounding communities are eligible to enter! We encourage area elementary and high school students to submit entries with the help and/or assistance of an adult, and are reaching out to University of Minnesota, Morris students to submit entries as well. ANYONE is eligible to participate in this contest.

Criteria for Judging: Please include imagery representing human rights in Morris. Also, the design must include the “Morris Human Rights Commission” name. Entries will be judged based on the following categories:
1. Suitable for Reproduction (simple, clean design)
2. Originality
3. Artistic Composition

Technical Requirements for Design or Entry: Artwork may be hand-drawn, painted or computer-generated. If computer-generated, you may shoot your own digital photographs for the composite, submit original illustrations from Adobe Illustrator or similar software, or use ROYALTY-FREE images. If you utilize royalty free images, you must show your proof of purchase. Minimum acceptable size: 5″ x 7″ and maximum acceptable size 11″ x 17″

Suitability of Entry for Printing: All entries should be rendered with the fullest possible attention to tone and detail. If submitting a computer-generated file – please submit a black and white version and a color version to show maximum usage. Suggested resolution and format are: 300 dpi in either a JPG or PDF format. If computer generated, you will need to print a color copy and also supply the file burned to a CD. ALL artwork entries become the property of the Morris Human Rights Commission and will not be returned to the entrant. We reserve the right to reproduce any and all entries.

Submission Procedures for Entry: Your artwork may be emailed or postal mailed. The postal address is listed above, and email entries should be sent to All entries MUST be accompanied by an entry form. Entry forms may be downloaded from the Commission’s website:, and are also included in these rules.

How Your Entry Will Be Judged: The judges of the contest are the final arbiters in awarding the prize for best logo and contest winner. All judges will be given the criteria for judging prior to viewing the entries. Only prize winner and/or a designated teacher (if listed on the Entry Form) will be notified via email. If you do not have email, please list another individual’s email address that you would like us to use for contact, so we may reach you. Any winner not reachable will be disqualified.

The Morris Human Rights Commission will announce the winner of the logo contest on January 21, 2013, at UMM’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Event. The winner of the Morris Human Rights Commission Logo Contest will receive $100 in Morris Area Chamber Cash, and the notoriety of having your design displayed on the Morris Human Rights Commission website and most other print materials.

Questions About the Contest?
Please contact Becki Jordan
Ph: 320.287.1169

Click here to print a copy of the rules (PDF)

Click here for Logo Contest Entry Form (PDF)

Also check out the Morris Human Rights Commission on Facebook!

Meet the Morris Human Rights Commission

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The Morris Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is celebrating its 15th Anniversary this year, so for the next 15 weeks, we will be sharing a series of articles with you in honor of this milestone. Each week, we, with help from others in our communities, will be addressing a different topic as it pertains to human rights. We hope to start conversations, educate ourselves and others, and raise awareness about human rights issues, both locally and beyond.

This week, we would like to introduce you to the Commission and let you know a bit more about our role. The Morris Human Rights Commission was established by the Morris City Council in 1997 to promote and encourage equal opportunity and fair treatment of all individuals. The MHRC is committed to having the city of Morris known as an inclusive community that values diversity, protects the rights of all individuals, and strives to meet the needs of all individuals.

Eight area citizens serve on the Commission. Seven are appointed by the City Council, and one is an ex-officio representative of the City Council. Individuals from all backgrounds and areas of the community are encouraged to participate, serving three year terms.

The Human Rights Commission has six primary responsibilities:

1. Identifying equity problems within the city.

2. Educating the public about human rights issues.

3. Responding to incidents of discrimination.

4. Building relationships with school districts, agencies, and business and community organizations and enlisting their cooperation in an active program to create equal opportunity and eliminate discrimination and inequalities.

5. Acting in an advisory capacity with respect to the planning or operation of any city department on issues of civil and human rights. Administering an appropriate grievance process.

6. Responding to incidents of suspected bias in employment, housing, public accommodation, public services, education, credit, or business that are reported to the City of Morris or to the Morris Police Department.

The MHRC holds regular monthly meetings on the third Wednesday of each month. Meetings are open to the public, and provide a safe space to discuss issues or concerns relating to human rights locally. Issues presented are gathered by both Commission and community members.

The Commission annually accepts nominations for the Thomas B. McRoberts Human Rights Award, honoring Morris area residents or groups who have shown a strong commitment to human rights locally. Nominations are currently being accepted for the 2012 award, and are due by Friday, Nov. 9. Forms are available online at, or at the Morris City Office.

The MHRC also sponsors and participates in a variety of other community events, including the Human Rights Essay Contest, the Martin Luther King Day of Service at UMM, and local fairs and expos. Members are available to speak with individuals or groups who are interested in learning more about human rights and the work of the local Commission.

We welcome your questions, comments and feedback. You can reach the Morris Human Rights Commission by contacting a member directly, contacting the Morris City Office, or emailing us at You can also visit us online at, or follow us on Facebook for more information. Stay tuned for next week’s article as we talk about ways for YOU to get involved in this important work!

Here We Go!

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Hello and welcome to the Morris Human Rights Commission‘s brand new blog!

This is new territory for us, so please stay tuned as we get started. We’ve got lots of ideas to share and discuss, so we welcome you all to be part of the conversation.

Check out the Morris Sun Tribune for our upcoming feature column in honor of our 15th Anniversary, and follow us here on our blog or on Facebook, or visit our website at to learn more, share your own thoughts, and get involved in the conversation. Because afterall, Human Rights ARE OUR Rights, Right?!