Sometimes it's possible to give voice to bigotry by simply asking a question. A question calls for a response.
In Facebook there have been a series of these kinds of questions in the form of surveys. The latest question to make the rounds:
"Should US Citizens be required to take a Citizenship test in order to vote?"
Testing potential voters to insure that they are reasonably intelligent citizens and have some sense of what it is to be an American may sound like a good way to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
However, it has long been recognized (and finally severely limited by the Voting Rights Act of 1965) that testing citizens or any other impediment to their right to vote such as poll taxes is inevitably used to disenfranchise citizens who are poor or who belong to a specific ethnic or language speaking group.
Literacy test is broadly defined by the act: "the phrase 'literacy test' includes any test of the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter." The act has repeatedly been upheld by the US Supreme Court.
The voting rights act came into being because southern states since the Civil War had repeatedly and successfully devised ways to circumvent the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution. Some methods included use of these tests (of which there were easy and difficult versions distributed at the whim of the local clerk); violence in the community; intimidation at the place of registration by law enforcement, clerks and officials; severely limiting voter registration hours; requiring that a registered voter vouch for you; turning over lists of voters to the local KKK who saw themselves as defenders of the "Southern way of life".
It was only after the voting rights act was passed that racial discrimination in denying a citizen's right to vote was successfully ended.
Do we really want to reopen that ugly chapter of our history? Do we really want to give discretion to business, interest groups and political parties to influence and to state and local governments to enforce laws which have historically been used to deny the right to vote to groups of people because they are thought to threaten "our way of life" or because of the unspoken reasons that they threaten our political or financial positions?
I am a firm believer that the right to free speech must not be abridged. However, thoughtful and intelligent people should recognize some of these Facebook surveys for what they are and:
1. Question the motives of those who create them.
2. Recognize that by participating in the survey, we unwittingly help fish these discredited ideas out of the garbage can of history and display them on our Facebook wall, where they are shared with our friends who may unwittingly do the same – thereby giving these ideas legitimacy and contributing to their spread like the society killing viruses they are.
3. If moved to respond to the question expressed in a survey, consider writing and posting an essay – as I have done where the reasons for rejection figure more prominently than the question itself.