Tag Archives: u.s. constitution

What’s at stake on November 6

Alan Sears writes that the values Americans hold sacred are up for grabs this year . . .

Alan Sears

With Election Day right around the corner, Americans must decide not only who will serve in office, but how those “personnel choices” will affect crucial federal and state-level issues foundational to our nation’s heritage and to our continuance in the image envisioned by our Founders.

A quick look at recent headlines easily demonstrates that three of those issues — religious freedom, marriage, and the sanctity of life — are facing some of the most serious challenges we’ve seen in our nation’s history. (Click here for a related story.)

In probably the most prominent example, religious freedom has literally been under assault since ObamaCare’s introduction in 2009. The passage of that bill into law in March 2010 only upped the ante, and has since spawned an abortion pill mandate that literally forces business owners to forego their consciences and their faith in order to provide health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraceptives for employees.

We witnessed a significant victory against the abortion pill mandate in August when Denver-based Hercules Industries won an injunction against the mandate. The company is led by Denver Chapter Legates William and Andrew Newland.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents Hercules in that case, and we were happy to see them secure relief from the coercion other businesses in America still face. Everyone needs to remember that votes cast at all levels on Nov. 6 will affect decision-makers who will have the power to repeal this mandate altogether.

Marriage, the most fundamental building block to the health and survival of the nation, is also endangered at the federal level and in many states across the country this November.

The Obama administration has not enforced the Defense of Marriage Act since officially announcing their opposition to the law on Feb. 23, 2011. This move emboldened individuals and special interest groups nationwide to push the redefinition of marriage. It opened the door for those seeking to impose a homosexual agenda on the military through repeal of the military’s so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in September 2011. It gave way to our President announcing his support for same-sex “marriage” in May 2012.

Not surprisingly, there are now efforts to secure same-sex “marriage” ceremonies for U.S. forces. The future of these ceremonies and, most importantly, the protection of religious freedom for chaplains who have biblical convictions against performing them, is in the hands of members of the House and Senate — many of whom Americans will have the opportunity to support or oppose in just a few days.

And at the state level, ballot initiatives in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland, and Washington will allow citizens of those states to decide whether they wish to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman. These ballot initiatives are crucial not only for those states themselves but also because other states are watching. For example, groups in California, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio are already collecting signatures for proposed initiatives that either legalize same-sex “marriage” or repeal an existing ban on it.

Life is also on the ballot this November — both directly and indirectly. As Legatus magazine featured last month, Massachusetts voters will decide whether doctor-prescribed death will become the law of the land as it is in three other states. The “Death with Dignity Act,” which is on the ballot in the Commonwealth, allows doctors to prescribe life-ending medications for patients who then take the drugs home and end their lives when they’re ready.

It’s a surreal proposal, reminiscent of the famous lines of “Invictus” by English poet William Ernest Henley: “I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my soul.” And it begs the question: Do we take our lives into our own hands only for the purpose of throwing them away with a prescription? Suffering patients need understanding and sound medical treatment, not encouragement to kill themselves.

Voters this year, as in all years, must look at the policies surrounding life that each candidate is promoting, weigh the candidate’s position, and choose those who will stand against the culture of death by standing for a culture of life.

Dropping our guard is simply not an option this November. Religious freedom, marriage, and life face serious challenges that simply cannot be put off for consideration in some future election cycle. The time is now. Your vote may help carry the day.

Alan Sears is a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan administration. He is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom. He and his wife Paula are members of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter.

What matters most

Patrick Novecosky urges Americans to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . .

Patrick Novecosky

There are many reasons why this year’s election is the most important in our lifetime. Religious liberty is under assault by the federal government, our national debt is out of control, our post-Christian culture is virtually unrecognizable to most people over 50 years old, and there’s more.

But in my mind, one reason sums them all up. The men who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence — arguably the founding document of our great nation — declared that they found certain truths to be self-evident: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Here’s my reason for this election being pivotal: The current administration — and far too many in our country — no longer recognize these self-evident truths. When the foundational documents of our nation cease to be relevant to voters, we can be certain that radical change is in the air. Shortly before the 2008 election, candidate Obama declared that “we are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He expressed no interest in recapturing America’s glory or repairing past wrongs. He was advocating for something completely different.

But the blame for the country’s indifference to our founding principles does not rest solely on the shoulders of President Obama. Quite simply, we have failed to appreciate the values that set America apart — and we have failed to teach them to our children. The whole idea of American exceptionalism is lost on most people who have gone through public schools over the past 30-40 years.

Results from the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress reveal that only 13% of the nation’s high school seniors showed proficiency in their knowledge of American history. The old phrase “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is coming back to haunt us.

America needs to rediscover its roots. We don’t need to transform our nation, we need to renew it. We need to embrace the principles that made America great, and then teach them to our children. Few understood and articulated these principles better than Ronald Reagan. In 1961, he said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.

Freedom and virtue?

Scholar Michael Novak asks whether freedom in the U.S. can survive without virtue . . .

Michael Novak

“By its liberty, the human person transcends the stars and all the world of nature,” Jacques Maritain once wrote. No one has reflected more deeply on the phenomenology of the human person than Karol Wojtyla, better known as Blessed Pope John Paul II.

The person, in his view, is an originating source of creative action in the world. The human person is able to reflect upon his own past, find it wanting, repent and change direction. The person is able to reflect upon possible courses of action in the future, to deliberate among them, and to choose to commit himself to — and to take responsibility for — one among those courses.

Only the person is free to choose which among his many impulses to follow. Animal freedom is to do what simple instinct impels. Human freedom is to discern a more complex, higher, and more demanding rationality in the field of action. It is to become a gentle master of all one’s instincts. It is, considering all this, to do what a person ought to do.

In our own time, alas, many people think of human liberty as the ability to flow with their instincts, to let go of restraint, to do what they feel like doing. They like animal images of their dream of liberty: “born free” like the tigress of the jungle or “free as a bird.” They think that animal nature is innocent and unrestrained, separated from moral rules imposed from outside their own instincts. Woody Allen very neatly expressed this impulsiveness: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Experience, however, teaches that human liberty is not constituted by bondage to impulse. Liberty consists in an act of self-government by which we restrain our desires by self-control, and curb our fears by courage. We do so in order to reflect soberly: deliberate well and choose justly. Moreover, we seek to act in such a way that others can count on our long-term purpose. Such practices of self-government are found in persons of considerable character.

It’s our great fortune that America’s first President, George Washington, was understood by all who knew him to be the prototype of this sort of liberty — the man of character, by his very virtues worthy of the admiration and affection of his countrymen, a model for the liberty the nation promised to all who would wish to earn it.

Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush anchored liberty in virtue, and virtue in religion: “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion.

Without it there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

Liberty of this sort comes neither by the positive nor the negative actions of the State; rather, the U.S. Constitution deliberately allows it scope, and plainly depends on its widespread realization. The liberty of self-government must be acquired, one person at a time. This personal task is rendered easier when the whole surrounding public ethos teaches and encourages it. In this sense, personal liberty is much favored or impeded, depending upon the social ecology of liberty. In any case, the American conception of liberty is “ordered liberty,” a liberty of self-mastery, self-discipline, self-government.

In brief, personal liberty is not well described as “unencumbered” liberty, as “rugged individualism,” as “libertinism,” or “hedonism,” or “letting go.” It is not the liberty of doing whatever one wishes. It is the liberty to reflect on what one ought to do, and the liberty to choose to take responsibility for doing it. Here in America, it is the liberty our forebears taught us. It is what John Paul, speaking of America, called its historic contribution of the social ideal of “ordered liberty.”

My own favorite expression of this liberty is the third verse of “America the Beautiful”: O beautiful for pilgrim’s feet, whose stern impassioned stress/A thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness/ America! America! God mend thine every flaw!/Confirm thy soul in self-control/thy liberty in law.

America has given many bad lessons to the world, and it has many tragic flaws. But one good thing it has brought to the world is the re-born ideal of ordered liberty, the idea of freedom as the capacity of its people to do as they ought. American history has brought us many stories of courage and self-control.

Personal liberty is not an intuitive, but a socially learned concept. It is not so much a personal achievement as a cultural achievement, and it requires an entire cultural ecology to encourage and teach it. Its embodiment appears more frequently in some cultures than in others, and more in some generations than in others. Personal liberty is a fragile achievement, and a single generation can decide to surrender and walk away from it.

It is by this fragile but precious liberty that “the human person transcends the stars and all the world of nature.”

Michael Novak is a renowned philosopher, author and theologian. The winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion, he is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. This article was co-authored by his assistant, Mitch Boersma.

Separating church and state

America’s Founders saw religion as a powerful guiding force in the new republic . . .

Fr. Michael P. Orsi

The establishment cause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment states that Congress shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (1789).

The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights (1791), were added at the instigation of the anti-Federalists who feared the loss of states’ rights. The Establishment Clause was meant to be a guarantee that the federal government would not establish a state Church. Some states retained state-sponsored churches — Massachusetts being the last to dis-establish in 1833.

Although the Founders, for the most part, officially held to one denominational creed or another, all were decidedly men of the Enlightenment. None of them wanted the sectarianism that wreaked havoc on “the continent.” Nor did they favor a monarchically structured Church that could limit the rights of individual conscience so dear to the “Spirit of ’76.”

Thomas Jefferson, among the Founders, was most imbued with the spirit of republicanism. In 1779 he wrote the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. In it he emphasized God’s creation of man with a conscience and free will. He said it is a violation of both to impose religion on anyone. Because of his influence, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a state law in 1786 dis-establishing the Episcopal Church  from the Commonwealth.

. Their presumption was that the Bible would serve as one source and reason the other to aid in self-governance. Jefferson believed that eventually both would meld into Unitarianism. While George Washington has been described as an early ecumenist, the pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, favored a godless state, which was roundly rejected by the other Founders and the American people. All three strains survive in our culture.

James Madison was the most traditionally religious of the Founders. He was also Jefferson’s alter-ego. As the author of the Bill of Rights, he intended to prohibit the federal government from creating a national Church, thereby allow religion to flourish freely in America. This was consistent with the spirit of the age since the Bill was instituted during the Second Great Awakening (1790-1840) which promoted grass-roots religiosity. During this era, the Free Churches (i.e., Baptists and Methodists) grew exponentially, challenging the hegemony of the hierarchically organized Episcopal Church and the aristocratically dominated Congregational and Presbyterian churches.

Aware of Jefferson’s advocacy for religious liberty, the Baptist Association of Danbury, Conn., wrote to him in 1801 congratulating him on his election to the presidency. As a minority, the Baptists were looking for Jefferson’s support in a state dominated by a religio-political axis of Congregationalists and Jefferson’s arch-foes, the Federalists. This moved him to write a personal and politically motivated letter to them in 1802 in which he used the metaphor “wall of separation” between Church and state so as not to impede the free conscience of any believer.

This now-famous phrase lay dormant until 1947 when Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black applied it in Everson v. Board of Education, stating for the majority that this wall of separation “must be kept high and impregnable.” The Court tied Black’s misappropriation of Jefferson’s words to the Fourteenth Amendment’s “due process clause,” which demands that legal proceedings be carried out in accord with established rules and principles. A divided court ruled in Everson that subsidies to Catholic parents for busing their children to parochial school did not violate the Constitution since the money was not given directly to the Church sponsored schools. This ruling set the standard for subsequent church-state challenges. Secularists have consistently employed it to eliminate religion, the nation’s moral compass.

Since Black’s judicial sleight of hand, courts have sought to avoid governmental entanglement with religion. For example, the Supreme Court’s rulings have tended not to favor partisan state-sponsored prayer or religious symbols in public places. The Court, however, has allowed generic prayer at government events such as presidential inaugurations or celebrations of National Days of Prayer. Pursuant to this last point, a U.S. district judge recently declared the Prayer Day unconstitutional, but precedent makes it unlikely that the ruling will be sustained on appeal.

In another recent case, the Court permitted a cross to stand in the Mojave Preserve since it “evokes far more than religion.” Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that “the Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.” The Court has also consistently ruled in favor of joint displays of religious symbols (a cross, Star of David or crescent moon) on public property, since this would not favor one religion over another.

America is a nation founded on religious principles. In the Declaration of Independence (1776), Jefferson anchored man’s “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Creator. Citizens realize that to remove religion from the public square betrays them to an atheistic state, thus jeopardizing their natural rights. Americans, therefore, are uneasy with this faux “wall of separation” between church and state, forcing court battles for years to come.

Father Michael P. Orsi is the chaplain and research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla.