Speech Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants Remarks Delivered at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (February 15, 2019)

  • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural CenterThis is the fourth winter in a row that I have joined you for your midday prayers, and to meet with Shaykh Yasir Fahmy and Executive Director Yusufi Vali. I come each year because it is the clearest way I know to communicate the continued commitment of the judiciary to protect your constitutional rights, and the rights of every resident in this Commonwealth, citizen and non-citizen, regardless of religion, skin color, or national origin. I would like to believe that there will come a time when you no longer need to be reassured of that commitment, when you can be confident that the rights of Muslims in this country will be honored and respected by those in power in our nation's capital, when only a handful of people on the fringe proclaim hate and ignorance. But that time is not yet here, so I continue to come.

And I come this year, as I do every year, with a very brief secular sermon. I want to speak to you today about the constitution of a powerful nation -- a constitution that:

  • guarantees the rights of all citizens, regardless of nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, cultural, social, and political life,
  • guarantees freedom of religious worship and freedom from antireligious propaganda, and
  • guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.

The Constitution I have described is the Constitution of the former Soviet Union, established in 1936 under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party. All of you who know your history know that this Constitution was a travesty, a litany of empty promises; all of those guarantees meant nothing to a repressive state that routinely violated each of those rights. 

I speak of the Soviet Constitution to prove a point: without an independent judiciary that has the authority and the courage to speak truth to power and to ensure the rule of law, constitutional rights are merely words on paper. The freedoms all of us enjoy that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Rights in the Massachusetts Constitution depend on the authority of our judiciary to uphold those freedoms and, when it is necessary, to declare laws and government conduct unconstitutional. And they depend on the expectation that those rulings will be obeyed. So when you hear those in power attempt to intimidate judges in the hope of influencing their decisions, or seek to remove judges for decisions they do not like, or discuss the possibility of ignoring court orders, what is threatened is not only the independence of the judiciary. What is threatened is the rule of law itself, and all of the rights granted by those laws.   

And remember also that it means little to have rights, and courts committed to enforce them, if those whose rights are violated do not step forward and insist that their rights be honored.   Legal rights can wither from silence, inaction, and fear. If the victims of hate crimes and of unlawful discrimination do not seek justice, there will be no justice. So justice is a goal that we seek together. 

Just as every resident in this Commonwealth needs to stand up to protect his or her rights, so, too, will our judges stand up to protect the right granted in our Massachusetts Constitution to every person "to be tried by judges as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit." When it comes to the protection of equal justice and constitutional rights, I believe I speak for every judge in invoking the words of the famous civil rights song: 

"On the road to freedom
We shall not be moved,
Just like a tree planted by the water,
We shall not be moved."

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 

The Supreme Judicial Court is the Commonwealth's highest appellate court.