QUARANTINED BY DISCRIMINATION

In Hawaii is Kalaupapa National Historical Park. It sits on a secluded peninsula separated from the rest of the island of Molokai by a two-thousand-foot tall wall of cliffs. There are no roads connecting the peninsula to the top side of Molokai, access is only by aircraft, boat or mule.

For a century Kaluapapa was the quarantine site for people afflicted with Hansen’s disease or leprosy. Today it is home to fewer than a dozen former Hansen’s disease patients, the only remaining residents from the thousands who once lived there exiled under the quarantine law, the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.”

Being quarantined by infectious COVID-19 is no fun but it lasts just 10-14 days. Hansen’s disease is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria. It is spread in a similar way to COVID-19, by prolonged close contact with an infected person through vapor droplets from the nose and mouth.

It can now be treated with a multidrug therapy but when it first arrived in Hawaii there was no cure. From 1865 to 1969 some 8,000 Hawaiians suspected of having Hansen’s disease were forcibly sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula to fend for themselves.

The quarantine law was lifted in 1969 but some of the remaining patients who were cured and allowed to leave did not. They knew they faced hardship and discrimination. Those who did leave were turned away from businesses and restaurants. People still treated them differently, afraid to touch or be near them.

The stigma associated with leprosy goes all the way back to biblical times. Lepers were common in the ancient world. They were quarantined and treated as outcasts, with no hope of getting well. But Jesus reached out to them on multiple occasions.

In Matthew 8:2-3 it says, “Suddenly a man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus. He said, ‘Lord, you have the power to make me well, if only you wanted to.’ Jesus put his hand on the man and said, ‘I want to! Now you are well.’”

Our response to anyone or group who face discrimination should be like Jesus who reached out with love and healing. A Christlike response to prejudice is compassion. How can we show solidarity with those who are mistreated because of their skin color?

We acknowledge their pain and seek ways to change behaviors and systems that continue racism. And we help to bring justice and equality to our community.

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