HARTFORD –Since becoming Chief Justice in April, 2007, the Hon. Chase T. Rogers has emphasized and put in place mechanisms that ensure that the Connecticut Judicial Branch offers access to justice for all. Consequently, this year’s Law Day theme resonated deeply for her.
“It is entirely fitting that we are here today to recognize this year’s theme of —Realizing the Dream: Equality for All,” Chief Justice Rogers said in welcoming those attending the May 1st event at the Supreme Court. “In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the 2013 Law Day theme goes to the heart of what our court system is all about—which is access to justice for all, regardless of whether you worship in a synagogue, a cathedral or a mosque.”
Speaking to a full courtroom, the Chief Justice continued, “When you go to court in America, you are entering with the expectation of justice for all. It is part of the social compact our courts have with anyone entering our doors, and we must ensure that we uphold our end of the bargain if this great democracy is to survive.”
But, the Chief Justice said, the Courts cannot be effective without educational outreach by groups of varying ethnic groups, religions or other diverse backgrounds.
“Courts, however, are only one part of the answer,” she said. “Education is another important component to achieving progress and the goal of equality for all—which leads me to the privilege of introducing today’s honoree, the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut.”
The Newington-based, nonprofit Coalition’s mission is “…to promote shared values of mutual respect and a social responsibility through educational and outreach activities.” It recently presented a program for employees of the Judicial Branch and has worked with the Branch’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Competency. In addition to raising awareness about Islam, the Coalition, among other things, also performs community service, maintains a speaker’s bureau and organizes a monthly lunch at Mercy Shelter in Hartford.
The Supreme Court chose the Coalition to receive its 2013 Law Day award “For educating the public on Islam and Muslims at a time when there has been an increase in hate crimes and discrimination directed toward Muslims. Through the Coalition’s leadership and many initiatives, it successfully embodies this year’s Law Day them, Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.”
In his Keynote Address, Attorney Refai Arefin, vice president of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut and a Newington solo practitioner, said, “I stand before you all this morning as the product of an American dream of equality, the child of an immigrant from Bangladesh and an immigrant from Guyana and a marriage that could only happen in New York City. I stand before you as a member of We the People and in the words of Lincoln, an inheritor of the proposition [all men are created equal] to which our nation is dedicated.”
Arefin spoke of his organization’s community outreach efforts and his faith’s embracing of equality.
“As Muslims, we are faith-bound to prescribe to basic principles of equality and fairness, which we carry out by serving our communities,” he said. “Each of us has our own way of improving lives. I like to believe I do so for my clients by litigating their cases and giving them a voice when they feel helpless. Then there is also my wife, who works closely with the Department of Children and Families as a senior counselor at Wheeler Clinic, helping families get back on track. By doing so, we fulfill not only a civic duty, but also a spiritual one.”
Attorney Kimberly A. Knox, president-elect of the Connecticut Bar Association, spoke briefly about the history of equality as it relates to Connecticut, a state she said proudly “made history” for equality with a number of cases including U.S. v. Amistad—which ruled that captive Africans aboard the slave ship Amistad were, in fact, free people and Connecticut Supreme Court, 50 Conn 131, which allowed the successful application by the first woman, Mary Hall, to the Connecticut Bar.
“This year’s Law Day theme…provides an opportunity to explore the movement for civil and human rights in our country and the impact that it has had in promoting the ideal of equality under the law,” said Knox. “It also provides a forum for reflecting on the work that remains to be done in rectifying injustice, eliminating all forms of discrimination, and putting an end to violations of our basic human rights.”
In closing remarks following her presentation of the award to the
Coalition’s Executive Board, Chief Justice Rogers said, “Our courts are here
to make sure equal rights are protected and we will do that. We are
bolstered, however, by the initiatives and hard work of community groups,
such as our honoree today, that seek to break down barriers through respect
for one another and belief that the rule of law is alive and well.”