To the editor:
In response to Tom Nass' letter of October 26 regarding the Human Rights Forum sponsored by the New Ulm League of Women Voters.
As Chair of the New Ulm Human Rights Commission I was truly disappointed that at our last meeting, a majority of the commissioners present (two were absent), voted not to allow the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Kevin Lindsey, to come and speak in New Ulm. If Mr. Naas wished to have an open discussion of opposing viewpoints regarding the proposed Marriage Amendment he had a perfect opportunity to suggest this during our Commission meeting. Instead, he voted to suppress any discussion of this matter.
Let me be clear, the New Ulm Human Rights Commission has absolutely no power to mediate or enforce any laws pertaining to the Human Rights Act of Minnesota. Our primary mission is to educate the public on human rights. Sponsoring an educational forum from our parent organization, whose position is that proposed amendments to the Minnesota Constitution involve human rights issues, is not only desirable, in my opinion, it is our job.
I am deeply aware that I must sometimes set aside my personal, political and religious views to impartially address issues that might affect human rights. While I personally do not support all the views of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, it would never occur to me to suppress any discussion on human rights that can affect the lives of citizens of New Ulm. I believe that it is a disservice to this community, and to anybody interested in these matters, not to allow someone to speak, simply because the issues are controversial or because he does not share our personal views.
The reason Mr. Nass gave at the Commission meeting for not sponsoring the forum was that the Marriage and Voter I.D. Amendments, both of which were to be addressed in the forum, are too controversial. The defense of human rights has a long history of being controversial. Many of the freedoms we take for granted, for example freedom from racial discrimination in work, housing and - yes - marriage, were highly controversial in their time. During the forum, Commissioner Kevin Lindsey explored the Amendments while stating his opposition to both, analyzed the arguments pro and con, and discussed why they are likely to remain controversial - and why the debate matters for our democracy. The New Ulm audience behaved themselves with respect and dignity and asked some very tough and interesting questions. Whether they were for or against the amendments, everybody who attended the forum seemed to leave with a better understanding of all the things that the passage or defeat of these amendments might entail.
I am profoundly grateful that, when I contacted the League of Women Voters, they supported freedom of speech by allowing someone to speak to the community on these important issues.
Both the New Ulm Human Rights Commission meetings and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights Forum can be seen on the local Community Channel NUCAT.
Alma B. Marin