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Friday, September 13, 2013

Political Correctness vs. Free Speech

The first amendment to the United States Constitution, the first article of the Bill of Rights, says…

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The left has a problem understanding the meaning of this first article of the Bill of Rights.  Just as it has a problem understanding the meaning of the second amendment to the Constitution, the one that says “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Actually, I doubt that they really have any problem understanding the clear meaning of these words, they just don’t like them.  And, it is, in their opinion, simply too difficult to change these protections through the prescribed amendment process.  So, they just pretend that these words mean something other than what they clearly mean.

They have re-defined the intended meaning of Article 1 to be a restraint on religion and the free expression thereof.  They prattle on endlessly about “separation of church and state,” yet those words appear nowhere in the United States Constitution.  They have made up a new meaning for what they refer to as the “establishment clause,” i.e. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” and argue that this means that there must be a total separation of church and state.  

In fact, it was Christian leaders who advocated the strongest for the so-called “establishment clause” because they did not want government to interfere with or control religion as it did in Europe.  That was their frame of reference.  The Pilgrims fled to America, as did many others, so that they could worship freely without interference by the government.  They did not want the government to tell them what church they needed to belong to. Nor did they want to be forced to support, through taxes, a state church whose doctrine and practices they did not agree with.  They sought a government that did not make any law that interfered with their open and free practice of religion as they chose to do so. 

The flimsy basis of the idea that the Constitution called for a wall to be built between church and state is a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists.  They had  expressed to him a concern that by including a protection of freedom of religion into the Constitution it was making religion a privilege granted by the state, not an inalienable freedom granted by God.  Jefferson wrote back to the Danbury Baptists, assuring them that the intent of the first amendment was to protect their right to practice their faith without any interference from government.  In his letter of January 1, 1802, he wrote…

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.  Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Clearly, the “wall” that Jefferson is here referring to is the wall that keeps government from interfering with religion, not religion from influencing government, or prohibiting citizens from expressing their views in the public square.  Neither were Americans to be discouraged from using their faith in God and their belief in the Bible as a basis for their political and philosophical views.  Discussion of religious views in public was to be free and open as were all other forms of speech, not to be proscribed by government or in any way regulated or abridged.

But, even more than this, Jefferson did not write the Bill of Rights, nor did he participate in writing the United States Constitution.  In fact, he wrote (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 10)…

“I was in Europe when the Constitution was planned and never saw it till after it was established.”

Moreover, when he received a copy of the Constitution, while he was residing in France, he wrote back to James Madison (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 10)…

“On receiving [the Constitution], I wrote strongly to Mr. Madison, urging the want of provision for freedom of religion…”

To have advocated a limitation on the exercise of religion in the public square would have been totally inconsistent with the previous writings and exertions of Thomas Jefferson.  He had championed the ending of discrimination against the Baptists and other dissenters in Virginia by the colonial government.  He opposed any state religion in Virginia.

The fact is, the entire idea of the so-called “establishment clause” prohibiting the exercise of religion in the public square is made up out of whole cloth.  It means exactly what it says, that citizens shall have the right to free exercise of their religion without any interference from government, nothing more and nothing less.

In fact, the idea of government secularists restricting religion in any way in the public square is simply censorship.  It’s book burning by any other name.  What we have today is a state sanctioned religion.  That religion is human secularism.  It is just as much a state religion today as was the Anglican Church in the colony of Virginia prior to the American Revolution.

It wants to control what is in school textbooks, excluding the role of religion in our society and any aspect of faith or God in our society.  It wants a total monopoly on learning and on speech in the public square.  That’s not freedom of religion, it is government sanctioned license.

The entire idea of politically correct speech is based solely on shutting up anyone who does not agree with you.  Using the pretext of banning speech that hurts someone’s feelings or that is offensive to them is a clear “abridgement” of the freedom of speech as described clearly in Article 1 of the Bill of Rights.  I am not in favor of hurting anyone’s feelings.  I believe I should be sensitive to the concerns of my fellow citizens, but this is driven by my understanding that all men are equal in God’s sight and that they should be in mine also.

Nevertheless, when government starts deciding what can be said and what cannot be said it is the beginning of government censorship.  It will grow and expand as government always grows and expands at the expense of the individual rights of its citizens.

Freedom is always messy.  In a free society, every individual is free to think, to act, and to advocate whatever they believe, providing what they do does not interfere with anyone else’s freedom of speech or other freedom. 

Freedom is messy in the public square, it is messy in the marketplace, it is simply a messy way of living.  It is imperfect, and I’m sure that’s why the Founders repeatedly talked about the importance of having a virtuous society.  They knew that freedom really would not work unless each citizen restrained his worst instincts.  And, they knew that would only happen if a consensus of citizens feared and loved God and seek to please him.

Today, the exercise of religion in the public square is under attack on all fronts.  The goal of the secularists is to silence all religion in the public square and replace it with an anti-God, humanistic approach.

Some of the examples of the suppression of the freedom of religion include suspending a young girl from a public elementary school because she silently bowed her head and prayed over her lunch.  She did not speak one word out loud, but was condemned for her actions because the “political correctness” policy of the School District proclaimed that for her to do so might offend another student.

How silly and how clearly unconstitutional. 

As Dr. Benjamin Carson said at the National Prayer Breakfast, “Political Correctness is dangerous.”

Today, we are not supposed to say Merry Christmas to anyone because they might be offended.  Merry Christmas, like Happy Easter, or Happy Hanukkah, is simply a blessing.  It is wishing a blessing upon the person. 

We need to be slow to take offense.  As it says in James 1:19…

“Remember this, my dear brothers and sisters: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and should not get angry easily.”

We need to get past political correctness.  It is simply censorship of free speech and it has no place in America.  It is dangerous, as Dr. Carson said, because it suppresses open and free discussion that can lead to the honest evaluation and analysis of real societal problems.  Political correctness does not draw us together as a nation, it divides us and encourages us to take offense at the most minor of comments.

Article 52 of the Soviet Constitution reads…

“Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda.”

Yet, freedom of religion was totally and absolutely suppressed in the Soviet Union.  Those who tried to express their faith in God openly were sent to the Gulag.  How could this happen?  The wording of Article 52 seems to be clear and precise.  It even references religious worship.

The answer is simple. Lenin and Stalin, and all the dictators that followed them, ignored the Constitution of the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union was not a government of laws, it was a government of men.  If something in the law did not suit them, they ignored it or they violated it.  It happens in all top down, centralized governments.  As Lord Acton said..

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Yet today, Obama talks about having to bypass Congress and do what needs to be done.  He ignores the United States Constitution and so do at least four members of the United States Supreme Court, as well as our chief law enforcer, Attorney General Eric Holder.  Associate Justice Ginsburg has even used laws in other nations to base her decisions upon.  These four Court members, and the President of the United States, as well as the Attorney General, and most leaders in his party, simply have no respect for the Founders or for the intent of the United States Constitution.

Although the President, the Attorney General, and the members of the Supreme Court, and all members of Congress took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, they daily ignore that oath.  In doing so, it says much about their character and about the danger they pose to our nation.

When we start suppressing freedom of speech because we are offended, we are headed down the road to serfdom.  When there is no longer true freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no freedom in the marketplace, there is no freedom of any kind.

But, the flame of freedom is not dead in America.  It burns in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans who cherish our Constitution, and respect the wisdom of our Founders.  There is a movement afoot in America to return this nation to the faith and freedom of the Founders, and thereby, to greatness.  The outcome will be close.  It is not guaranteed, and, in fact, the odds are against the preservation of freedom.  In the course of history, periods of freedom are rare, they are the exception, not the rule.  Individual freedom only exists when government is small and restrained, and when citizens exercise self-restraint, as well as compassion for their fellow human beings.

You and I are blessed to live in this wonderful, free society.  But, if we are to preserve it for our children and grandchildren, we will need to have the courage and the determination of the Founders, as well as their faith.  Let us resolve to give our all to this goal.



2 comments:

  1. 1. Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of "We the people" (not a deity), (2) according that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders' avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    That the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who mistakenly supposed it was there and, upon learning of their error, reckon they’ve solved a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation--in those very words--of the founders' intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that were the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Rather, the Court discussed the historical context in which the Constitution and First Amendment were drafted, noting the expressed understanding of Madison perhaps even more than Jefferson, and only after concluding its analysis and stating its conclusion did the Court refer–once–to Jefferson’s letter, largely to borrow his famous metaphor as a clever label or summary of its conclusion. The notion, often heard, that the Court rested its decision solely or largely on that letter is a red herring.

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  2. 2. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    It is important to distinguish between "individual" and "government" speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square--far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment's "free exercise" clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views--publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties, they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment's constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

    Nor does the constitutional separation of church and state prevent citizens from making decisions based on principles derived from their religions. Moreover, the religious beliefs of government officials naturally may inform their decisions on policies. The principle, in this context, merely constrains government officials not to make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion; in other words, the predominant purpose and primary effect must be nonreligious or secular in nature. A decision coinciding with religious views is not invalid for that reason as long as it has a secular purpose and effect.

    The Constitution, including particularly the First Amendment, embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

    Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

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