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Affirmative action still under attack

Melvin B. Miller

Civil rights advocates awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Fisher v. the University of Texas believe the case concerns the legitimacy of UT’s affirmative action plan for admissions. However, the case actually involves an even more extensive issue — whether any such plans violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

An examination of the court documents by ProPublica found there is no evidence of damage to the plaintiff. In fact, the only compensation she seeks is $100 to refund her application fee and housing deposit.

UT admits the top 10 percent of all Texas high school graduates. A 2008 graduate, Abigail Fisher of Sugarland, Texas did not qualify under this provision. That had nothing to do with the fact that she is white. Admissions for the remaining 841 seats were decided in accordance with a review/point system.

There was a high rate of rejection in 2008, with 168 black or Latino applicants with grades equal to or better than Fisher’s being rejected. Also, 42 white applicants with lower scores than Fisher were admitted because of socio-economic factors.

According to the ProPublica analysis, there is no evidence that Fisher was displaced by a less qualified minority applicant. With insufficient evidence to support an anti-discrimination complaint, the judicial result would ordinarily be in favor of the defendant. However, this suit, backed by the conservative non-profit organization Project on Fair Representation, has already made it all the way to the Supreme Court. That alone is quite an achievement.

Racial minorities should be alerted by the Fisher case and others that past gains for racial equality are under aggressive attack.

Will Catholicism expand in Africa?

The recent assembly in the Vatican of cardinals from around the globe provided an extraordinary display of the magnificence and power of the Catholic Church. While the conclave was for the very spiritual task of selecting a new pope, it was impossible to avoid considering the political consequences of the cardinals’ decision.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, became the 266th pontiff of the church. He was also the first pope from Latin America. When one considers that the Catholic Church was founded in the Roman Empire and the Vatican is located in Rome, a pope from Argentina seems to be quite a reach.

But that is not so. Latin America and the Caribbean now have 41.3 percent of the world’s Catholic population, 483 million congregants. Only 277 million Catholics now live in Europe, just 23.7 percent of the total Catholic population.

There are about 1.168 billion Catholics in the world who account for 53 percent of all Christians. That number is roughly equivalent to the number of people who are unaffiliated with any religion, and it is substantially less than the 1.6 billion people who are Muslims, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

When one considers that many human conflicts erupt because of differences in religion or ethnicity, people around the world are reasonably concerned about religious conflicts. Catholics and Protestants became enemies in Ireland. Hitler tried to annihilate the Jews in Europe. Sunni and Shia Muslims are in conflict in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. And Muslims are at war with Christians in parts of Africa.

It was a smart strategic move for the Vatican to strengthen its presence in the Americas. One might expect in later years more interest in Africa. The Democratic Republic of the Congo already has more Catholics than Germany or Poland, both of which have been the birthplace of recent popes. Benedict XVI (2005-2013) was born in Germany and his predecessor John Paul II (1978-2005) was from Poland.

The Middle East and North Africa are predominantly Muslim. As the Islamic influence moves south on the continent, it will be of some interest to note whether the Catholics and other Christian groups campaign for the hearts and minds of sub-Saharan Africans.