The role of the HRC
To the editor:
In a recent letter by Michael Thom, the New Ulm Human Rights Commission was accused of not speaking for all citizens due to perceived partisanship. In this letter there are some fundamental misunderstandings regarding the role of the HRC, what human rights entail, and the definition of free speech.
The Human Rights Commission works to ensure all citizens are treated equally under the law regarding business, credit, education, employment, housing, public accommodations, and public services and are not discriminated against based on their status as a protected class.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that freedom of expression is a human right. This right to express views aloud is exactly what Mr. Thom is doing when he writes letters to the editor. Protection of this right means an individual may not be punished by the government for their public expression of ideas. If Mr. Thom suffered legal consequences for expressing his thoughts and we missed it, we apologize. This right doesn’t mean an individual can speak at any time on demand. Were others allowed to speak at the school board meeting but Mr. Thom wasn’t based on his identity in a protected class? If so, this would be a valid grievance and the Commission would refer such an incident to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to investigate further.
The Human Rights Commission works to ensure all are afforded equal rights. Although individuals have freedom of expression they have the duty and responsibility to respect other people’s rights too, including meeting protocols. This is where freedom is not free. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. If individuals feel they were not dutifully heard at meetings, a request to speak to the chair of said board in person would be the next step. It is out of the scope of the HRC and inappropriate for us to intervene in these instances. If an individual or group feels their human rights have been violated, contacting the Human Rights Commission via the mayor’s office is the proper protocol.