COLUMBIA — An initiative petition calling for a constitutional amendment that would kill many affirmative action programs is spawning opposition from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The petition, which is being circulated by the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, proposes to end discrimination in all state-run institutions based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” unless such programs are necessary to secure federal money.
Tim Asher, executive director of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, said this group will rely on both volunteers and paid staff to go “throughout the state” to gain support for the initiative and collect the roughly 150,000 signatures required to get it on the November ballot.
But Mary Ratliff, state and local president of the NAACP, said the organization is firmly opposed to the initiative. She has encouraged all members to “decline to sign,” saying that she feels the idea is “anti-affirmative action.”
“Many African Americans are underprivileged economically due to past inequities,” Ratliff said. “To not grant any race- or gender-based criteria would mean many African Americans and women would be unable to attend college.”
Asher said he submitted the petition because he believes the proposed constitutional amendment would help to end unfair discrimination.
“Our government should not be viewing us as anything but equals,” Asher said. He added that groups opposed to the amendment don’t look at the harm that preferential treatment based on race or gender could do to society.
Asher also argued the amendment would not ban all types of affirmative action. “There are affirmative action programs that do not grant preferences to race or gender,” he said.
The NAACP and the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative agree on one thing: Both are committed to educating people about the initiative.
“That is what’s most important,” Ratliff said.
Legal disputes over the clarity of the amendment’s proposed ballot language had already prompted Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan to rewrite it earlier this month. Callahan said the language drafted by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan wrongly gave the impression that the amendment would replace existing preferential treatment programs with different ones, according to the Associated Press.
As written by Callahan, the AP reported, the initiative asks whether the constitution should be amended to: “Ban state and local government affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment in public contracting, employment or education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin, unless such programs are necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funding or to comply with a court order.”