Geometry and Justice: The Moral Imperative to Combat Prejudice in All of Its Forms

COMMENTARY: If America fights injustice selectively it has not really begun the fight.

Justice is not only a virtue, but a cardinal virtue, along with prudence, fortitude and wisdom.
Justice is not only a virtue, but a cardinal virtue, along with prudence, fortitude and wisdom. (photo: Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash)

Geometry teaches us more than geometry. It supplies us with lessons that are actually indispensable for morality. 

A triangle is a three-sided two-dimensional figure whose interior angles add up to 180 degrees. That is the definition of a triangle. An equilateral triangle has three equal sides, an isosceles triangle has two equal sides, and a scalene triangle has no equal sides. They are different, but they all conform to the definition of a triangle. No geometer would disagree. 

Engineering would not be possible if engineers began treating triangles as squares and squares as triangles. In this regard, there is peaceful conformity between all triangles and their unifying definition.

Here’s another definition: A human being is a rational creature endowed by God with unalienable dignity. It does not matter whether a human being is white, black or brown; Christian, Jew or Muslim. All these types correspond to the definition of a human being. 

It would be wrong to deny humanity to any of these types. Geometry, then, gives us a fundamental model of justice. If someone conforms to the accepted definition of a human being, then, he is a human being. Justice has a kind of geometric quality in that the particular is commensurate with the universal, just as a scalene triangle, despite its three unequal sides, is still commensurate with the universal definition of triangle.

A square has four sides. Therefore, it does not qualify as being a triangle. If a medical doctor is not interested in health, he cannot claim to be a medical doctor. Here, there is an unbridgeable discrepancy between what he does and what he claims to be. Likewise, if the home-plate umpire is not concerned about the strike zone, he is not an umpire. And if a lawyer rejects justice, he disqualifies himself from being a lawyer.

Racism, which is universally deplored, is a species of prejudice (that is, in a secondary sense of this word: We all ought to be — and are — naturally prejudicial to some extent. For instance, our natural prejudice against fire helps us to know that we will not have a good experience if we put our hand into an open flame). A person is said to be prejudicial in this secondary sense, however, when he negatively evaluates a person not in relation to that person but in relation to a group or class of which he is a member. Such a form of prejudice falls under what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “rash judgment, which is about the inward intention, or other uncertain things” and “which proceeds not from benevolence but from bitterness of heart” (Summa Theologiae, II.ii.61.2). According to Aquinas’ definition, such an act is a species of injustice. In fact, racism and prejudice are both examples of injustice.

But in America’s current fight against racism, strangely enough, it ignores prejudice against Catholics. One wonders if the fight against racism will achieve any lasting victory if it is separated from a more general fight against all forms of prejudice. 

We would expect that lawyers, who commit themselves to defending justice, would be in the trenches fighting against all forms of injustice, including prejudice against Catholics. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, in some circles, prejudice against Catholics is seen as politically acceptable and even career-advancing.

In late 2018, while evaluating the nomination of Brian Buescher to serve as a district judge in Nebraska, Kamala Harris posed a series of questions insinuating that his involvement in the Knights of Columbus disqualified him from serving on the bench, according to an Aug. 11 article in National Review. Harris asked him if he was “aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when [he] joined the organization” and whether he had “ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women’s reproductive rights.”

Following Harris, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, went a bit further, asking Buescher whether he intended to “end [his] membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias” — in other words, intimating that she would withhold her vote at least until he had left the Knights of Columbus. 

At the behest of Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Buescher was eventually confirmed. It is important to note that the Senate later voted unanimously to reaffirm the constitutional clause forbidding religious tests for public officeholders. But the fact remains that Harris and Hirono were guilty of reprehensible anti-Catholic bigotry (or as Aquinas might say, “rash judgment” stemming from “bitterness of heart”), and there’s no reason to believe her views have changed. 

It is worth pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court currently includes five Catholics, potentially six with the Sept. 26 nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. 

Are we to say then that none of these Catholic judges is fit to serve the highest court of the land? There seems to be a contradiction in the assumptions of certain politicians — or perhaps a double standard that allows certain Catholics on the bench but not others. For it is clear from recent decisions that these Catholic justices do not think alike or vote in the same way. Besides revealing a contradiction in such thinking, the notion that a Catholic is unfit to be a judge simply because he is a Catholic is a clear instance of injustice as well as prejudice. 

The more relevant question is: Can a lawyer call herself a lawyer if she is an enemy of justice? Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House (and a Catholic convert), has stated on Fox News, “The consequences of Harris’ openly anti-Catholic bias will be felt as other anti-Catholics draw encouragement from her bigotry to increase the activism and intensity of their assaults on Catholic institutions and Catholic personalities.”

If a Catholic is a true Catholic, then he affirms that justice is not only a virtue, but a cardinal virtue, along with prudence, fortitude and wisdom. A Catholic, then, precisely because he is Catholic, has the right credentials built into his belief system for being a judge. His appointment to the bench should be welcomed, not disqualified. Here we have, in the examples of Harris and Hirono, two individuals who presume to be defenders of justice but are really its antagonists. Their conduct should ignite a national outrage. Nevertheless, in certain instances, justice continues to take a back seat to political correctness. 

The fight against racism should be based on a fight against all forms of injustice. It remains forever that all triangles — whether equilateral, isosceles or scalene — are all species commensurate with the universal definition of triangle. It also remains forever that all human beings are human beings, notwithstanding such accidentals of their humanity as color, creed or affiliation. However, if America fights injustice selectively — picking its battles on the basis of favoring one of these accidentals over another — it has not really begun the fight.

Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Canada and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. He is the author of 37 books. His latest five books — How to Navigate Through Life, Apostles of the Culture of Life, Why I Am Pro-Life and Not Politically Correct, A Moral Compass in a World of Confusion, Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding — and are all available through Amazon.com.

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