Much of my professional and personal life is directly related to seeking justice - eco-justice, economic justice, racial and gender justice, criminal justice, restorative justice - the list goes on. The pursuit of justice is the means by which society provides for its orderly and peaceful existence. Failure to seek and implement systems of justice fractures societal coherency. The Latin root for justice is jus, meaning "to tie together." The intention of being “tied together" is enshrined in the motto of the United States: E Pluribus Unum - "out of many, one.” A trusted and respected just system of government thus assures the stability of a family, a nation - or the whole planet, for that matter.
The reality of life is a pervasive tension among the various stakeholders in any society who compete for resources and power. Each party attempts to establish certain rights and prerogatives. And history has proven that a “neutral" third party is critical in mediating the differences among groups by regulating selfishness, assuring fair distribution of resources, establishing equal treatment with proportionate and just rewards. The court systems with “neutral” judges and opportunities for citizen peers to consider the differing competing positions ideally then provide guidance to establish a just balance of power and compensations among the competing claims.
And I would add that the ballot box and public opinion are among other ways justice is meted out as people are given the freedom and opportunity to vote on various policies. Whether we can trust these historically, often quixotic and corruptible means of seeking justice, they are still one of the ways a culture can define what it considers to be fair and just through a referendum process, for example.
Put in practical terms, when I taught in middle school my students were in the process of honing their teenage growing capacity to challenge "the system" - most particularly their parents and teachers. The primary means of doing so was to challenge authority by a passionate appeal to fairness. “Mr. Ewell, that isn’t fair!!” - and they assumed they got to define what was fair! As much as I may have resented their challenges, I also realized the ability to successfully confront unjust authority was one of the most important life skills they were learning as together we negotiated (if possible) alternatives to what they considered unfair and unjust treatment, like making a whole class pay for the behavior of only a couple other students. And they were often right, of course.
And doesn’t my example above establish the basic idea of justice behind what a functional society must learn to do as a whole to assure a unified sense of common respect and rights? Injustice needs to be confronted and addressed in good faith and trust, as obviously difficult this often may be, if the mutual support systems are not to implode. Although a classroom situation does not usually lend itself to a “neutral judge,” I am a strong proponent of restorative justice, through peer based practices within our educational systems, that again can be used to teach nonviolent conflict management.
I need to close with the contemporary issues of justice in the headlines this week. I am so deeply pleased that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has strengthened its historical purpose by successfully hearing serious issues such as genocide and war crimes related to Israel and the Palestinians. Even though the United States has withdrawn its commitment to abide by the ICJ, and holds a veto power over its rulings, I am heartened that the strengthened visibility, viability and respect of the ICJ is being recognized. You can learn more about the ICJ at https://www.icj-cij.org/court/
I will only briefly note the other arena where American law and justice are themselves on trial, the drama of the Trump legal cases. Given my commentary above, the integrity of our nation’s judicial system’s ability to maintain the principles of fair and honest court process is of considerable concern.
In sum, for me justice and peace are intimately related. I pray that our country and the world will give the pursuit of justice the critical, sacred status and trust it so profoundly needs if we are to remain at peace and ultimately survive.