On a completely non-computer note… a letter recently arrived:
"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the ACLU?"
As outrageous as it seems to anyone who remembers the shame of the McCarthy Era and its ugly legacy of witch hunting, this is the very question Senator Jeff Sessions is now using in the Senate Judiciary Committee to disqualify nominees for the federal bench!
As you might guess, the letter is from the ACLU. And no, we haven’t confirmed the quote, but we will be sending a letter to Senator Sessions’ office, asking him whether that is his statement and the context of the statement.
But, if it’s true, it’s part of a trend that is at least worrisome. The United States –for all the country’s problems– has something that is worth protecting: a set of basic rules that we –the people, the government, companies, everyone– play by: the Constituion and the Bill of Rights. The ACLU bothers a number of people because they look at someone the ACLU represents in a case –Nazis, immagrants– or the particulars of some case the ACLU is arguing –everyone deserve decent legal representation no matter the crime, religion and prayer should not be government sanctioned– and decide that the ACLU is part of what is undermining America’s moral fabric. Or the ACLU is a bunch of left-over 60’s hippies.
The rules we play by, in particular those in the Bill of Rights, were created for very good reasons. Freedom of speech was designed to protect speech that is unpopular against the whim’s of a particular time. One of our strengths is that we’ve decided that arguments can be decided by words not by decree. Many people do not agree with the Klu Klux Klan, those who believe in UFO abductions, the right to abortion, a literal second coming of Christ, legalization of drugs and thousands of other arguments aired every day in this country. But, each of us have the right to argue a different point: that racism is wrong, that there are no UFOs, that Christ was a metaphor, that there is no God, that drugs are wrong and destroying America and increasing crime rates, the right to life, and on and on. If you don’t have a strong enough argument against someone else’s view that you disagree with, the onus is on you to either agree with them, do the research to argue succesfully with them or get out of the discussion. But, everyone has the right in this country to argue their view.
Along similar lines, many people don’t understand why prayer isn’t allowed in school. It is allowed, thanks to the Bill of Rights. The current administration has put together new Federal Guidelines that make this very explicit. What’s not allowed is establishment of religion. In most, if not all, "western" countries prior to the founding of the United States, there was a state religion: The Church of England, for instance. International wars were waged because of different interpretations of the Bible or because one government backed Islam and another backed some flavor of Christianity. And people who didn’t practice the official state religion were, at best, tolerated. Usually, they were persecuted and/or imprisoned. Many of the original Europeans who came to what is now the United States were fleeing persecution. Many of the states in the northeastern United States were founded because a particular religious group did not have a country to go to that had enshrined their religion.
Thus, the no-establishment clause. The government is not allowed to do things that establish a particular church. Note that the Declaration of Independence and other documents refer to “God”, not the God of Abraham and Moses or to Jesus or to Buddah. Our "official" God is very vague by intention. To put it succinctly: as a country we believe in a higher power, period. In the case of prayer in schools, children are allowed to pray silently before class, are allowed to hand out literature, are allowed to use school property for religious meetings. The government’s role is to provide an environment where people who freedom to their relgion. It is the children and their parents –not government– that is communing with God, their God: the priesthood of the believer, for those familiar with the New Testament. Many people wonder how a teacher leading prayer can be an establishment of religion. In the strict sense, the teacher is an employee of our governement. At that moment, to those kids, he or she is the government. So, the government, by leading prayer, is showing those children who is God, what is God like, what kind of prayer God wants and what book or books God had someone bring down from the mountain.
Some people argue that’s picking nits. Is it? What if that teacher is a buddhist, or a satanist, or an atheist? With Freedom of Expression, that teacher, if they are allowed to lead the students in prayer, must be allowed to lead those students in prayer to whatever "God" they want to. Imagine, the reaction a devotely Baptist family has to a Satanist leading prayer before their children. I imagine a jewish family has a similar reaction to the thought of a Evangelical Christian teaching –thru prayer– that Jesus is the Messiah. The Jews do not believe Jesus is the Messiah. And the child is caught in the middle.
I can make similar arguments for the right to burn the flag –it is unpopular speech, but it is still an expression of someone’s view on a subject– and many other issues, but the bottom line is this: those who wrote the Bill of Rights were –at the moment they composed those first ten amendments– incredibly wise and insiteful. In a world that has decided that rules just stop free trade or that they are for someone else or that the rules need to be made in one person’s image of God, the rules formulated in the Bill of Rights are a quaint hinderance or a creaky machine that needs to be brought up to the times. But, the issues are still the same: everyone must be free to speak their mind through any peaceful means necessary, government can have no roll in certain areas such as religion. The ACLU exists to speak for the Bill of Rights; and for those for whom the Bill of Rights is being trampled. It is beyond worrisome that a United States Senator, sworn to protect and defend the Constitution –including the Bill of Rights– against all enemies foreign and domestic is using support of the Constitution as a disqualification for judgeship. It is said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. May God have mercy on our souls for forgetting the lessons of McCarthy and Nazism and the persecution of Martin Luther, the Crusades, the ethic and religious hatred that was the war in Bosnia and why so many people came and continue to come to this country. May God have mercy on our souls.