Sticking up for human rights, fighting prejudice

Barry Morrison with an ADL antihate poster. He has worked for the ADL in Philadelphia since 1981, except for a stint in Chicago from 1988 to 1992, and is planning to retire at the end of this year.
Barry Morrison with an ADL antihate poster. He has worked for the ADL in Philadelphia since 1981, except for a stint in Chicago from 1988 to 1992, and is planning to retire at the end of this year. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 01, 2013

This summer, 21 Catholic school teachers will spend four days at Daylesford Abbey near Paoli, learning about the history of Catholic-Jewish relations and the Holocaust.

The program, for middle- and high-school teachers from Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware, is a partnership of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Anti-Defamation League.

Bearing Witness, as the program is called, is one of numerous efforts by the Anti-Defamation League, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, to combat anti-Semitism and to counter hatred, prejudice, and bigotry.

On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League, commonly known as ADL, will sponsor its 14th annual Supreme Court Review, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Three legal scholars will discuss their impressions of high court decisions in the recently completed term and take questions.

The sold-out event usually is conducted by telephone, but this year it is being held live in commemoration of the anniversary. Plus, the focus is broader.

"Because this is our 100th anniversary, this is not only to review the cases before the court this past year," said Barry Morrison, the ADL's regional director. "This will also take a look back further at two specific questions."

Those questions will deal with trends of the Supreme Court regarding free speech and the religious clause of the First Amendment.

"These are important intellectual, religious questions that have direct ramifications on people's lives every day," said Morrison, who is based in Center City and whose territory covers eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware.

Morrison, who has worked for the ADL in Philadephia since 1981, except for a stint in Chicago from 1988 to 1992, is retiring at the end of this year.

Chicago is where lawyer Sigmund Livingston founded the ADL in 1913, with the support of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish community-service organization, "to protect Jews from the blatant anti-Semitism of the day," according to a history on ADL's website.

Livingston started the ADL with $200 and two desks. It now has 30 U.S. offices (including the Philadelphia office since the 1950s, Morrison said), three offices overseas, and $53 million in revenue in 2011.

Former Philadelpha Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has worked with and clashed with the organization.

In the early 1980s, Morrison and Rendell, when he was Philadelphia's district attorney, worked together on Pennsylvania's Ethnic Intimidation Act, the state's version of a so-called hate-crime law.

"I admire Barry Morrison and the ADL," Rendell said last week. "We worked hard on Pennsylvania's hate-crime law. I admire what they do, because it's not just directed toward defamation of Jews; it's directed toward defamation of any people."

But in 1997, when Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan wanted to hold an antiracism rally in Philadelphia, Rendell drew the ire of Morrison and leaders of other pro-Jewish organizations by working with Farrakhan, considered an anti-Semite by some, and appearing with Farrakhan in a church on South Street.

Rendell said he maneuvered the city safely through what could have turned into a race riot. "My responsibility of being mayor comes before my responsibility in being Jewish," he said.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington when he was police chief there, and was disturbed by the role German police played in Nazi Germany.

In particular, there was an image of a German soldier and a police officer walking down the street with a muzzled German shepherd "whose eyes were absolutely crazed," Ramsey recalled Friday.

"That's when I began to understand that police played a role in that entire event," he said. "Until then, I had really only thought of it being Nazi soldiers, not so much police."

From that experience came a one-day training program called Law Enforcement and Society, created at Ramsey's urging by the ADL's Washington Regional Office and the Holocaust museum.

Since Ramsey arrived in Philadelphia in 2008, Philadelphia police recruits, including 52 this month, have participated.

The Holocaust is far enough back in history, Ramsey said, that it "offers a back-door way of entering into a discussion about the role of police in a democratic society."

Contact Harold Brubaker

at 215-854-4651 or

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