Throwback Thursday-Japanese Internment

September 1, 2016
By Kristen Johnson
Twitter: @tugoffaith

On this day in history, 1942, a federal judge upheld detention of Japanese-Americans. The case in question concerned a Mr. Hirabyashi, who refused to submit to an internment camp based on his Constitutional rights as a US citizen. “After spending five months in jail awaiting trial, Mr. Hirabayashi was sentenced by a Federal court in October 1942 for violating a curfew of 8 P.M. to 6 A.M. and for refusing to obey orders to report to the internment camp. The United States Supreme Court in 1943 upheld the conviction on the ground of military necessity.” (The New York Times.)

Obviously, Japanese interment camps were racist, xenophobic, morally corrupt, and anti-American. But, the question remains – are we, as a nation and a society, any better now 74 years later?

The good stuff:

  • 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation of America’s public schools was unconstitutional.
  • 1964: The civil rights act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • 1972: Title IX stated that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
  • In 1988, the Senate voted to give each Japanese-American interred $20,00 and an apology.

What should concern us all is that in spite of these strides forward (among others) we now seem to be taking huge steps backward. Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, has vowed to build a huge wall between Mexico and the US, has flip-flopped repeatedly on his stance on immigration in general (but it’s pretty bad), and has referred publicly to African-Americans as poverty-stricken.

Also of real concern are the new Jim Crow-era voting restrictions. According to the Brennan Center for Justice:

In 2016, 15 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.

Those 15 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

These new laws claim to be intended to reduce voter-fraud, but the real reason is very apparent. It’s a way to keep people in poverty from voting.

It should sadden us all that we haven’t learned from the Japanese-American internment camps, the Jim-Crow era segregation, and other injustices that we have enforced in the history of our country. As people of faith, we should be particularly disturbed by this trend. Jesus spoke often about serving the poor and needy, and he broke through barriers in the ancient world by keeping company with women, tax collectors, and sinners.

James 2:1-7 (NRSV): My brothers and sisters,[a] do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?[b] For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”[c] have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.[d] Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

We are all equal in God’s eyes.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of


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