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Many of us – and not just Democrats – were in shock after reading that State Senator Scott Frantz called “social justice” un-American during a speech at the official opening of Republican campaign headquarters Thursday.

“The Democrats,” he is quoted as saying in a Friday Greenwich Time article by Frank MacEachern, “How fundamentally un-American of them to push for concepts such as social justice.”

As opposed to the un-American term, “social justice,” Frantz said he’d like to coin the term “opportunity justice,” which he called “fundamentally American.”

When I read what Frantz said, I did a double-take. I thought I had mis-read something. I went back and re-read the paragraph. Once I realized this was in fact what Frantz had actually said, I put the paper down in shock and disbelief.

The concept of social justice has always been at the core of my being. It’s what defines America for me. It’s what makes America worth defending. It’s what gives meaning and purpose to my life, both in a spiritual sense and as a proud American.

While we still have miles to go in achieving true social justice, in my mind our country was founded on this principle at time when democracies didn’t exist in western civilization and nations were ruled by despots. Social justice is inseparable from our Declaration of Independence, our American Revolution and our Constitution.

The pursuit of social justice is central in the religious teachings of the Christian and Jewish religions that a majority of Americans adhere to, and therefore woven into the fabric of our culture, whether it’s an obligation to the poor, the needy, the vulnerable as taught by Jesus in Christian tradition, or the Jewish concept of “tikkun olam,” the repair of the world.

Our country was founded on the principle of equality: that all are created equal and endowed with the same rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the Declaration of Independence seems clear that government, deriving its power from the consent of the governed, is instituted to secure these rights.

Isn’t that a declaration of social justice?

True, the exact wording was that “all MEN are created equal” and black men were slaves, considered as property, not men endowed by their Creator with the same inalienable rights as white men. But, for the times, the very concept of such social justice that declared all men as created equal was truly revolutionary.

And in our pursuit of social justice over the generations since our founding, we have freed our slaves and desegregated our schools and  produced the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We have given women the right to vote.

But still, we’re far from making Martin Luther King’s dream of true social justice a reality.

There remains much to be done as we seek a society with more equal access to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The fact is we live in a society still riddled with inequality, particularly economic inequality.

The gap between the rich and the poor grows ever wider. The rich become richer. The poor become poorer, with more numbered among them, while the middle class is struggling.

Unless we address our many social inequalities and invest in our human resources, we will eventually have a society that is unsustainable. Equality of opportunity – is this what Frantz means by “opportunity justice?” – is inseparable from social justice.

Once we give up the pursuit of social justice, as Frantz wants us to, we’ll have given up on the country that was the hope of our founders. We’ll have given up on America.