Recapping 2012: Things People Think They Know…But Don’t
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1816, Letter to Charles Yancey
I’ve come to the conclusion that Dante, in writing his classic “Inferno”, actually missed the final level of Hell. Or rather, I have not so much concluded that, as discovered it. The deepest level of Hell is to be forced to watch the news and read the printed and online media, and see falsities, half-truths, and outright lies perpetuated ad nauseum, and be completely impotent to get people to realize the truth. You can convince a large majority of the people to believe just about anything as long as you say it in a serious, contemplative voice, or preface it with the statement “Experts agree” or “A new study has discovered…” I don’t mind people disagreeing with me (indeed, there are few things I enjoy more than debating against someone that is informed and well-prepared) but it drives me berserk at the absolute stupidity that some people are willing to believe.
So, as we head into the new year, my last column will be dedicated to correcting oft-repeated fallacies, in the hope that it will create a spark that leads to a reassessment of things that people believe, but just aren’t so. In no particular order, here is the truth about some common fallacies that I wish could be corrected once and for all…
The Constitution does not give anyone the right to vote in federal elections, period. Yes, you read that right. There is NO right to vote. The Constitution, in Article I, Section 4, reserves power to the states to establish the criteria for the privilege of voting. Various amendments to the Constitution establish that, when all other criteria as established by the states are met, no person shall have their right to vote abridged due to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), inability to pay a poll or other tax (24th Amendment), or age, provided the voter is at least 18 years old (26th Amendment). All other restrictions on voting are entirely at the discretion of the states.
The United States of America is NOT, nor has it ever been, a democracy. America is, and always has been, a republic, incorporating elements of representative democracy to choose those who will act on our behalf in positions of elected office. True democracy is “majority rules” government, nothing more than mob rule with the patina of legitimacy. In a republic, the rights of the individual and minorities are protected against the tyranny of the majority. For example, even if a majority of the people were to vote to ban a certain religion, the Constitution would not allow such an action to occur because, regardless of the vote, such an action would violate the First Amendment protection of freedom of religion. Fisher Ames, a Founding Father and author of the House language of the First Amendment, said the following in regards to democracy: “The people as a body cannot deliberate. Nevertheless, they will feel an irresistible impulse to act, and their resolutions will be dictated to them by their demagogues…and the violent men, who are the most forward to gratify those passions, will be their favorites. What is called the government of the people is in fact too often the arbitrary power of such men. Here, then, we have the faithful portrait of democracy.” A more accurate and concise portrait of democracy may never be found than that offered by civil libertarian James Bovard, who said that it is “two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
The separation of church and state as currently understood by most Americans exists nowhere in the Constitution. The phrase itself comes from an obscure letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, in which he sought to assure them that the rumors that the federal Congress would soon establish a national religion were false. The phrase then virtually disappeared from public knowledge until 1961, when it was resurrected by the Supreme Court in a case called Engel v. Vitale, wherein the Court determined that prayer in school was unconstitutional, even if the prayer was not denomination-specific, and even if students were not required to participate. Despite nearly 200 years of history supporting the constitutionality of religious influence on government, this case would set the precedent by which the Court would further erode religious liberties.
However, scholars of early American history would know that not only did the Founders NOT discourage the religious influence on government, no less than George Washington would refer to religion and morality as the “indispensible pillars” of the republic. In fact, at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, eight of the thirteen states had already established state religions. America began as, and has remained (despite the concerted efforts of anti-religionists in our midst) a Christian nation. This idea was affirmed a century later by the Supreme Court in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, when the Court declared “There is no dissonance in these [legal] declarations…These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons: they are organic [legal, governmental] utterances; they speak the voice of the entire people…These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”
With the failure of the Obama administration to defend DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), it might surprise many on both sides to discover that this is a complex issue, and that both sides operate under some misconceptions. For the gay marriage side, the fact is that the Constitution does not enshrine a right of individuals to marry. In fact, it does not address marriage at all. Therefore, marriage is properly a purview of the states, to be decided as they see fit. As of today, a half dozen states have legalized same-sex marriage. On the other hand, nearly three dozen have passed state constitutional amendments banning the practice. For strict constitutionalists, we must acknowledge that DOMA addresses at a federal level an issue properly left to the states. On the other hand, with pro-homosexual marriage advocates arguing for “marriage equality” under the Equal Protection clause (which, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would mandate states honoring gay marriages from other states under the doctrine of reciprocity) are also trying to use tactics of questionable constitutionality to achieve their goals. And since the state had precedent in regulating the terms of marriage which predates the Constitution, this fight will continue on.
Other beliefs of questionable veracity include the “it’s a free country” principle whereby people think that they can say anything they want and be protected from retaliation or punishment (false; the First Amendment protection of free speech limits speech restrictions only by the federal government, not by individuals, businesses, etc.), or the idea that the Supreme Court has the final say in all legal matters (while the concept of judicial review was established shortly after the Constitution was ratified in the case of Marbury v. Madison, there is no constitutional provision for such, and the Constitution also gives the other two branches power to limit, exempt, or overturn rulings by the Court).
As you can see, many of us believe a lot of things that we’ve never independently verified, and just take as fact because they are things that “everyone knows”. So my challenge to each of you this year is to educate and enlighten yourself. Do some independent studying. Read the Constitution. Read the Bible. Be willing to examine other viewpoints and see how what you “know” withstands the furnace of contrary opinions. Maybe if we do that we will begin to challenge other assumptions (“the rich don’t pay their fair share”, “more guns means more crime”), and we can finally make some progress towards restoring liberty in our once great nation.