Month: September 2011

Constitutional Conservatism, The “Return” to Christian Values, and Mutual Exclusivity

I’m hoping someone can explain this to me, because I’m a little bit confused.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on the confounding nature of the Tea Party. It emerged from a collective discontent, was usurped by socially conservative idealogues, and scares the living daylights out of me.

Here’s where my confusion stems from- they claim to want to return to basics and the ideas of the Founding Fathers when it comes to how the government functions. Let’s take a look at some of the quotables, shall we?

Michele Bachmann:  “We have to recapture the founders’ vision of a constitutionally conservative government, if we are to secure the promise for the future. […] As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the founding fathers’ vision of a limited government that trusts in and perceives the unlimited potential of you, the American people. I don’t believe that the solutions of our problems are Washington-centric. I believe they are with every-American-centric.”

Newt Gingrich: “Congress Has the Power to Protect the Constitution. It Should Use It.”

Rick Perry: “I am reminded of James Madison’s perspective from Federalist number 45. He said that the powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few, and they are defined. Those which are to remain in the state government are numerous and indefinite. I like that. I am a Madisonian.”

Herman Cain: “I define a Tea Party candidate as anyone who believes in fiscal responsibility, the free market system, and enforcing the constitution. That’s the mantra of the Tea Party movement. I have been a believer in that mantra from the beginning.”

Sarah Palin: “I want to tell ’em, ‘Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion—and you can keep the change.'”

They seem to have a lot of respect for the U.S. Constitution, and, not trusting my own expertise, I decided to revisit the cornerstone of our government. The First Amendment reads, and I quote:

” 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.”

But let’s be real- the language here is vague. So I went to case law for further clarification. The landmark case of Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971 contains this nugget in the court’s decision:

” Under our system the choice has been made that government is to be entirely excluded from the area of religious instruction and church excluded from the affairs of government.”

Ok, so I know this case has withstood the test of time- we’re still abiding by it 40 years later- but these candidates think the courts are participating in “judicial activism.” Instead, they say we should rely on the interpretations formed by the Founding Fathers. So I started researching their opinions on separation of Church and State. Let’s ignore the fact that the whole point of our “forefathers” coming across the Atlantic was to escape religious persecution and that their “Christian” affiliation was loose in most cases and completely absent in some, and instead look at what they said (because words speak louder than actions, clearly):

“We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” (Thomas Jefferson, Draft for a Bill to Establish Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1779)

“The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.” (James Madison, Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821)

“…the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.” (George Washington, 1789, responding to clergy complaints that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ)

“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.” (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1771)

” “The [president] has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction. . . .” (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper LXIX, 1788)

So, in summary, the Founding Fathers, Supreme Court and Constitution seem to mandate that religion and politics not intermix. So explain to me why these Tea Party leaders, so devout in their adherence to the Constitution, have the following words to their name:

Michele Bachmann: “We need more biblical world view to let people know what is it that the principles of God stand for. If people understand the principles of ours, it won’t be difficult to understand who would best represent those values in the White House and in Congress. And as I encourage people, go to my website. I am happy to have people know exactly where I stand.”

Newt Gingrich: “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Rick Perry: “America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is going go to be: Whose values? And David Lane and I, and I would suggest most of the people in this audience, believe it’s those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

Herman Cain: “Our Founding Fathers recognized a higher power in the formation of this nation when they said in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and that they are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” It was no accident that in some of our earlier years as a free and independent nation that our leaders added “In God We Trust” to all of our currency. And to send a message to the rest of the world when Communism was on the rise in the 1950s, Congress added the words “under God” to our pledge of allegiance. They were not just words. It was a collective reaffirmation that we know the ultimate source of our greatness as a nation.” America’s moral foundation does not need to be rewritten. It needs to be respected and taught to our children and grandchildren.

Sarah Palin: “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant– they’re quite clear– that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandents, it’s quite simple.”

Can you see why I’m confused? All these self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, who have made their absolute faith in the Constitution very public, are the same people who advocate its violation in spirit- if not in policy and day-to-day governance- above and in a vast array of other instances.

Look, I’m not knocking Christianity. I classify myself as a Christian, though my beliefs are very personal in nature and not affiliated with a specific denomination. Christians are awesome. But I do not believe in a national religion, or a country being run as though there is one. The only way to protect the nation from mob rule is to protect the rights of the minorities. To borrow heavily from someone far wiser than me, I may not hold the same beliefs as you, but I will defend to the death your right to hold them.

And before you start talking about your rights being infringed upon, I don’t want to hear it. Just because the government does not govern from a pulpit does not mean your ability to practice your faith is inhibited; it only means that your ability to institutionalize your faith is limited. The same applies for the “radical Islamists” referenced by Newt above, and Athiests, and Buddhists, and Wiccans…. the list goes on.

EVERYONE IS PROTECTED IN THE SAME WAY.

Even in a world where I didn’t believe in the separation of Church and State (or its mandate wasn’t spelled out in black and white), there’s another big problem here- staunchly conflicted agendas. If you can provide me a logical explanation as to why the concepts of “constitutional conservatism” and the statements of the candidates above are not mutually exclusive, I’m all ears.

Until then, I’m still scared. And you should be too.

Thanks, Josh

I’ve been pondering this blog post for the past week, and after some particularly fantastic conversations with some of the forensics crowd at the Fiesta this weekend, I’ve decided it’s time to put pen to paper…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several months and/or the landslide of worthless drivel known as popular culture, you know that last week witnessed the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy- or DADT.

The repeal of DADT warmed my heart. Yes, it was the removal of structural discrimination against a group of people who had nothing to deserve the targeting. Yes, it was a historic movement toward broader equality. If that wasn’t enough to bring me to grateful tears, I’d have questioned by humanity, but I’ll be frank- the story behind the change is what has moved me the most.

Members of the parliamentary debate circuit are well-acquainted with one Joshua Seefried. A debater at the Air Force Academy, my first encounter with him was freshman year. I didn’t know him, and I sure as hell didn’t know anything about debate yet (what’s the difference between offense and defense, again?), but from the minute he opened his mouth, I knew he was smart. I don’t remember who was on what side or who won (probably him, at that point), but I do remember the manifestation of instant respect.

I won’t pretend that I was best friends with Josh- it’s not accurate or fair to this story. We were friendly (though I can recall a few times where I’m sure he didn’t care for me too much), and those initial feelings of respect never dissipated- especially once rumbles about his sexual orientation began to pop up.

I didn’t care. I don’t really know of anyone who did. The reason the rumbles were of any consequence was because Josh was in the Air Force, and they certainly did care. I remember thinking that he was immensely brave. He was so dedicated to protecting America that he was not only willing to risk his life in battle, but his livelihood at the hands of an unjust policy.

As members of the parli community, we discussed a wide range of political, social and economic issues, and DADT was frequently included. Maybe it was just me, but those debates always made me slightly uncomfortable. I prided myself on being able to attack or defend any argument, regardless of my personal beliefs, but knowing that on one side of this debate was a good person being forced to live a lie- a good person for whom one rumor spoken too loudly could spell out the end of a career- brought the debate a little too close to home.

In 2010, the Facebook group “1,000,000 Strong for Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was born under the guidance of Citizens for Repeal- led by a group of debaters from the parliamentary circuit. Most of us on the circuit joined these groups. Citizens for Repeal became Outserve- one of the driving forces behind the repeal.

The leader here was an ambiguous JD Smith. JD had no profile picture, but was suddenly requesting the friendship of many of us. I remember, at one point, another girl on the circuit warned all of us to be wary of this “JD individual” as she couldn’t find a single person who could say they’d met him.

JD, as the world found out last week, was Josh.

Yes, this story is really cool, and yes, this repeal is monumental. We are all indebted to Josh, but even if you’re not a supporter of the movement he belongs to (in which case, you should probably read this post and then not talk to me anymore), you still owe him. Why?

Most of the people who will read this are members of the Millennial generation. We’re young, and we confuse the heck out of our predecessors. Initially, there were major concerns about our ability to be part of a workforce. Members of older generations could not wrap their heads around our social work style, confounding hours, and approach to productivity. Where they saw chaos, we saw opportunity, and have, over time, proven the results we’re capable of generating. They’re pretty impressive.

Unwilling to admit they were wrong, critics of the Millennial generation went on to question our ability to lead. Yes, we were creative, and yes, we could get things done, but could we take on greater responsibility, including the management of those below us? As time marches on, we’re seeing this play out in real time. Zuckerberg, Google’s execs… the list goes on.

However, the final frontier, in many ways, was whether or not we could lead a people. I wondered about it myself after reading an editorial (which I spent hours trying to find again, to no avail) earlier this year about a potential solution to the then all-consuming debt ceiling crisis. Their suggestion? Lock a bunch of Millennials in a room and don’t let them out until they’ve reached a solution.

It seems as though, generally speaking, Millennials are seen as idea people- solution people- without the ability to mobilize a population. Whether it was because they’d lost faith in government officials or the system as a whole was up for debate, but that perceived apathy was causing many to conclude that Millennial leadership would be lacking.

Josh, much to my delight, is proving them all wrong.

He is the first of our generation to have such a substantial impact on public policy, and he did it with seemingly effortless grace, sincerity, and integrity. He paired Millennial technological prowess with reason and persistence, and the result was explosive. He isn’t just an inspiration because of the nature of the changes he made, but because of who he is and how he did it.

I don’t know what Josh’s plans are moving forward, but he’ll forever be in my peripheral. It wouldn’t shock me to see him continuing to kick ass and take names. Josh renewed my faith, not only in humanity and our country’s ability to embrace equality, but in my generation and the future we face.

Thanks, Josh. We owe you.

YOU CAN SUPPORT JOSH AND OUTSERVE HERE.