Rights Respiration: Disability, Isolation and a Constitutional Right of Interaction
11 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2006
This paper was written for Texas Wesleyan University Law School's 2006 Gloucester Conference, "Too Pure an Air: Law and the Quest for Freedom, Justice, and Equality." The paper, part of a larger project investigating Human Rights Lessons of Law and Disability, sets out a model of human ability that not only reveals the reality of disability prejudice, but underscores the distortions of current equal protection doctrine's emphasis upon membership categories. Using the lens of disability the paper grounds our understanding of discrimination in human isolation, looking toward solutions that spring from our interdependence rather than our separation.
In his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. declares that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a garment of destiny. King understood, and the experiences of individuals with disabilities confirm, that exclusion spills directly from the denial of our interdependence. Prejudice would have us see no connection between ourselves and others, and therefore no reason to acknowledge or respect our common humanity. Systematic and pervasive impediments to human interaction in the significant arenas of human life are corrosive of individual dignity and the maintenance of community, and thus isolation should be seen to be at a heart of the evil to be combated through our constitutional protections. Indeed, the purpose of all civil rights statutes, implementing those protections, is to enhance and ensure human interaction for the sake of human rights, the health of our democracy, and our common humanity. James Somerset, upon his arrival in England, breathed in the pure air of rights, air that carried to him the holy symbols of his humanity. As all of us take in from the same air, slavery cannot be allowed to exist because it poisons the atmosphere of rights upon which our humanity depends. Each relies upon the other to protect the air, and each is necessary to the effectuation of rights that have no meaning or consequence except within a web of relationship. Rights respiration can only occur within our social context, and thus isolation constitutes social asphyxiation and the death of self.
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