Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Johnny Cash got it

One of the least well known candidates for the US presidential nominations is Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. In his statement of principles, he includes the following:

The Founding Fathers developed these [First Amendment] clauses to guarantee the right of all citizens to worship and to protect the church from the state, not to strip religion from the everyday lives of Americans.
While that might be true, it isn't the whole story. The state also needs protection from churches, and this is a more pressing concern right now.

Congressman Hunter would:
amend the U.S. Constitution and provide blanket protection to all unborn children from the moment of conception by prohibiting any state or federal law that denies the personhood of the unborn. Likewise, I have also introduced the Right to Life Act, which would legally define “personhood” as the moment of conception and, therefore, guarantee all constitutional rights and protections, including life, to the unborn without utilizing a constitutional amendment.
And supported:
an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. I firmly believe that children need the unique influence offered by both a father and a mother.
I don't share the Congressman's views, but he's entitled to campaign for them. But note that he is advocating amendments to the US constitution that plainly derive from a religious perspective, and citing in support of this an amendment that prohibits the sorts of amendments he is supporting.

American Christian conservatives have this difficulty with the constitution: it's neither Christian nor conservative, but they'd like to think it is. It's radically, amazingly, libertarian, with a small 'L'. Johnny Cash understood it better than the Congressman.


dearieme said...

The point was to prohibit an Established Church for the Union. This was necessary because some of the individual states had had (and, I think, a few still had) their own established churches. So the US could be like Britain, with different established churches in Scotland and England. As it happens, the individual states eventually gave up established churches (like Wales and (Northern) Ireland) now).

S.K. Johnson said...

I would tend to disagree with you. Not just because I'm a Hunter supporter, but just because of my understanding of and ideals about our Constitution and our founding. The Constitution is based on a foundational belief of natural (the first draft of the declaration said 'God-given' actually) rights, that have limits in that we don't have a right to usurp someone else's. Basic libertarian philosophy, yes. It's just that many of us believe that no one has a right to take a child's life either, because it is deriving them of their Natural (or God given as we believe it is) rights that can not legally be taken away by anyone except God. I am not a libertarian, but I take a libertarian philosophy, for the most part, in law. I simply believe that the killing of babies falls under the libertarian philosophy of one thing that should be regulated by government.

Lastly, the Constitution is not a religiously neutral document. For one thing, to claim that it is neutral is a reductionistic dualism that says that there is a difference between various religions and various ideologies. All ideologies and all religions have a foundational worldview. If you take religion out of something you will replace it with another ideology that has a different worldview (or you will mix worldviews, or at least copy the behaviors and values of another worldview whether you realize it or not). In other words, the Constitution can not logically be labeled neutral, there MUST be a worldview behind it. You mentioned that it is a libertarian document, so you basically understand that already. But it also must have a overarching worldview behind that as well. The predecessors to the enlightment taught that government can regulate actions but can not regulate beliefs. However government must be based upon some value system, and some 'worldview'. It's not logically possible for it not to. Laws against murder are certainly value system laws, based upon a worldview just like any other law. They are not neutral. To outlaw murder is not to impose a belief upon someone's conscious (i.e., we are not forcing them to believe any religious doctrine about murder, we are simply following one to protect society). Yet it is still a religious/ideological value being enforced. Outlawing abortion is in no way forcing a belief upon someone (which is what the forefathers were teaching against). Instead, it is regulating an action, with a motivating ideology/religious doctrine just like every other law on the books.

And, just for clarity, John Locke took many of his ideas that went to our forefathers from the Reformation (particularly Calvin and to a lesser extent, Martin Luther, who first talked about what became known as the separation of Church and State. Separation of CHurch and State was originally a Christian concept). Many words in the Declaration and Constitution come from Calvinist points (the King of England and his advisors called the American Revolution the Presbyterian Revolution) The forefathers also relied heavily upon William Blackstone's Principles of British Common Law. He was a Puritan, the first to really develop further the idea of inaliable God-given rights and what that means from a law perspective. Many people argue that Locke was the end all and be all, but in my opinion, he just seems like it because he brought together many other ideas that were originally Reformed Christian concepts. Our country is based upon an overall belief, and one of those beliefs is that beliefs can not be enforced on people. Actions can, and must be enforced to protect society. The basis for that enforcement in any given situation must logically be based upon some value system (a religious/ideological value system, not just 'liberal', 'conservative', or 'libertarian' because each of them have their motivating worldviews. Not everyone who follows one of those groups fully understands the basis of their convictions however).

Super-Electro-Magnetic Midget Launcher said...

I'm not convinced that the amendments he's proposing "plainly derive from a religious perspective" in any sense that would get in trouble with the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment. I'm also not sure that's relevant anyhow: The whole point of amendments is that they change the Constitution, and there's nothing in Article V that obviously says amendments can't limit each other. Competent constitutional scholars may disagree with me about that, but the amendments are full of stuff like income tax and female suffrage that conflicts with earlier amendments.

I can't see how the belief that life, in the legal sense (whatever that is; does anybody have the faintest idea?), begins at conception, is necessarily religious. Sure, it can be religious, but so what? For example, the Bible says "Thou shalt not steal" — but that's no barrier to passing laws against theft. It's really irrelevant that some particular politician's opposition to theft ("politician", "theft", ha ha ha) happens to be religious.

You could make the same argument about this dude's preferred definition of marriage.

Obviously there's an exceedingly fuzzy line somewhere between what counts as "establishment of religion" and what doesn't, but you can't go around automatically excluding religious people from the legislative process, just because their views might be tainted with God cooties or something. There's an amendment about excluding people from the political process, too.

All that having been said, I sure hope this knucklehead doesn't get elected, but even if he does, there's no way he'll get his stupid amendments ratified anyhow.

dearieme said...

Oh, look, the stuff about "natural rights" is just tosh. They meant "British rights" but, being a bunch of traitors, couldn't say so.

Super-Electro-Magnetic Midget Launcher said...

"British rights"? You mean the right to dig turves on the manorial waste, ius primae noctis, escheats, all that sort of thing?

You have to realize, not much of your legal system is relevant to conditions in a modern country.

Vol-in-Law said...

"ius primae noctis"

Never existed in English law.