Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Rulings on Marriage

Exactly one year ago I wrote my thoughts on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare.  Since the Supreme Court apparently has an annual appointment in late June to issue controversial decisions, I thought I would take a moment and share some thoughts about Wednesday’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court got it right, although even when they got it right they got it wrong.  The DOMA is clearly unconstitutional, although not for any of the fabricated reasons that the Court devised.  Constitutional historian Kevin Gutzman stated it perfectly in a Facebook post:

DOMA is overruled on the basis of the 1954 invention of an equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. It’s amazing it took until 1954 to discover its equal protection component.The DOMA should have been overruled on 10th Amendment grounds, as defining marriage is the states’ prerogative. Even when the SCUS is right, its reasoning is wrong.

So, the Court was correct that DOMA is unconstitutional, but it’s unconstitutional because the federal government has no authority in this matter, which is clearly left to the states.

To me, though, this issue is just a part of a larger question.  Namely, why should any government be involved in marriage at all?  Political commentator Julie Borowski made an astute observation that the issue is really less about marriage than it is about government-mandated benefits:

“No one technically has to get government’s permission or fill out a government marriage license to get married. Any two people (or more whatever floats their boat, I guess) can have a wedding ceremony and call/declare themselves married. Of course, their marriage won’t be recognized by the government which means they can’t get government marriage ‘benefits’ and ‘privileges.’ The real debate is about *who* should be able to get the government marriage benefits: Straight couples only? Gay couples too? As I said in my earlier status, we need to better develop and articulate plans to detach (or get rid of) government benefits tied to legal marriage.”

To the extent that Borowski is right, and I believe she is, it seems entirely unfair to exclude a group from government benefits because of their lifestyle choice.  As much as I disagree with government benefits in general, everyone should be able to recognize that if a group of people pay into a system it is immoral to legislate away their ability to get anything out of it.  This is, after all, the very argument that many conservatives correctly make against progressive taxation.

Perhaps the best comment I saw on the ruling came from libertarian commentator Chase Rachels:

Please do not applaud the government for ruling DOMA unconstitutional. Implicit in this ruling is that the government has the authority to determine which marriages are valid and which ones are not.

On a separate but related note, no one has the right to tell a clergy man or any other individual for that matter that he either MUST or MUST NOT marry any two or more individuals. Let’s wake up and strike the root!

These comments are absolutely spot on.  Most of the opposition to the Court’s rulings is from people who want to see gay marriage made illegal on moral grounds.  What needs to be understood, however, is that the power the government uses to make something illegal is the same power is can use to make it legal (and to make this legality mandatory on religious social institutions).  It is an unwise strategy for both sides to place this kind of power in the hands of government and then sit with fingers crossed, hoping that they’ll never interpret it differently than was intended.

One final thought for my fellow Christians who are troubled by these rulings.  One of my struggles with the Christian community’s laser-focus on politicizing morality is that, in the best case scenario, the only thing that laws can effectively do is control the outward expression of a sinful heart, and even in this the law usually fails.  The law cannot address the heart of the issue.  The fact that a particular immoral behavior is made legal does not change the fact that the true remedy is not political, but is the reconciliation of a broken heart to a loving Savior.

It is my opinion that the politicization of morality only makes the issue needlessly combative and distracts all sides from the real issue.  I hope that Christians can realize that, regardless of what the law says, our response should be the same: to show to our fellow man the love, mercy and redemptive grace of God through Jesus Christ.  This is, after all, the common, inescapable need of all humanity.

17 Replies to “Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Rulings on Marriage”

  1. I can agree with the notion that the federal government should not be defining “marriage”. But, I must strongly disagree with the notion that society, through their representatives, should not be defining the acceptable conduct of people within the society…in fact, the very notion of criminal laws are exactly that.

    We can make agreements on certain laws which make total sense to most people, like, we should have a system of governmental run, due process to prosecute theft. If the government were not involved in this process, the only recourse left to the offended would be vigilantism. (this one is easy)

    But, who decides some of the less easily delineated “crimes”? Of course, the answer is the people, as is the case with the above example.

    So the people, within the confines of the state and federal compacts, known as Constitutions, and within the bounds of natural rights, are the owners of this country, thus they are the ones to decide what conduct is acceptable and which are not.

    This country was Founded, and still functions, under the knowledge that the God of the Bible is the Creator, and His Word is the ultimate standard by which ALL will be measured by. Regardless of one’s belief/disbelief, these are the standards which the Constitutions were erected, accepted and ratified by the People of the various states and the country. It is also the very standard which “natural law” are measured against.

    Where we are today (and again, we can argue whether we should be or not) is that the federal government dictates certain “benefits” to married couples, as defined by the Bible. The solution is one of two, either we as a society decide that the federal government will no longer do that, or we as a society decide to change the definition of who is going to get benefits. A solution which is NOT available to us is to “redefine” what marriage is.

    So your assessment on the DOMA ruling is improper.

    If a state wishes to provide benefits to anyone, they simply need to pass laws which authorize such, for example, if they wish to provide special tax benefits to horse owners, that is fine….but let’s not re-define marriage to include those who own horses. (but you see, the legislators KNOW, that in the case of homosexual behavior, the People do not want to support or sanction such activity, so they use the courts to “re-define” an action which the People have already supported and sanctioned.)

    The states would reap the benefits, or suffer the consequences of their actions. However, no state should be able to force another state to share in the consequences of their actions. This, of course, is totalitarianism, or tyranny.

    The WHOLE issue in this process has been the usurpation of power/authority, by the federal government, in the area of marriage. However, that root is not going to be dug up any time soon. This root cause is fostered by the fact the federal government is financially oppressive, outside of the Constitutional authorities regarding taxes (and of course spending and nearly every other aspect of its current existence). If the federal government were not providing federal benefits, which relied upon the definition of marriage, then of course, they would care little about the definition of marriage. Nor would anyone else care how the twits in D.C. defined marriage.

    It is interesting to note that to date, the People of the various states have overwhelmingly voted to NOT change the definition of marriage. Yet, this very Constitutional, very American, very proper conduct has been essentially tossed aside by one man in a black robe, in D.C…..regardless if you or I agree with him or not.

    When Libertarianism is applied, without regard to our current state of existence, or without regard to the Foundational Principles which our Founders leaned upon for their establishment of the various state Constitutions, and the federal Constitution, it becomes very grotesque and unpalatable to all but the most abstract of people. The applauding of this turning on the head of a standard which has existed since the beginning of mankind, is a perfect example of this grotesque outcome.

    Within the mess of a system we have in D.C., today, the only avenue available to the twits in D.C. is to pass legislation, via the representatives of the People, to offer benefits to other groups, outside those who are married. Not redefining marriage, not declaring a definition invalid, not imposing one state’s laws upon all the others. (refer to my very first sentence, the DEFINITION of marriage is already established, we can not change that, to offer new benefits. It is critical to understand, what is really occurring is that the federal government is ADDING new federal benefits, which is EXACTLY what you say they should not be doing. So, under your argument, it is OK for the feds to expand their umbrella of benefits, even if they are unConstitutional, as long as they make them “more inclusive”….this is a slippery slope.)

    If the process is taken up in a more Constitutional manner, the argument becomes, does D.C. have the Constitutional authority to authorized such benefits….not, whether a word, which has a very specific and accepted meaning, is to be changed to impart the already agreed upon benefits to groups outside the original agreement.

    Now, if you want to have the debate if married couples should be getting federal benefits, then fine, but at least be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge this discussion is totally separate from the discussion of offering benefits to gay couples, horse owners or people with certain color hair.

    PS Already, we have clamors from those who wish to “marry” their dogs, under age children, siblings, multiple spouses, and inanimate objects, all for the purpose of increasing the umbrella of federal benefits to their “group”…..under your argument, this is OK, cause the benefits already exist, “…it seems entirely unfair to exclude a group from government benefits because of their lifestyle choice. As much as I disagree with government benefits in general, everyone should be able to recognize that if a group of people pay into a system it is immoral to legislate away their ability to get anything out of it.”

    I say, I agree the feds should not be meddling in these issues, as they have no Constitutional mandate….yet you seem to argue that since they have usurped power in the area of marriage, they now have the responsibility to usurp powers to try to “even the playing field” for all….isn’t this the argument the the communist/totalitarian/socialists make?

    (sorry for the long reply, try to strike a smaller nerve next time 😉 )

    1. Thanks for your well-spoken comments.

      First, I’m not sure where you got the notion that I am somehow advocating anything other than returning this issue to the states. Regardless of any policy preferences I might have, I would never advocate them being applied at the federal level. You are correct in saying that vesting power in central government has always led to tyranny. I do not, agree, however that the states can’t return this power to themselves. That is the essence of nullification.

      Second, I’m not really advocating a redefinition of marriage. What I am saying is that to give this responsibility to the government is nonsensical and, as Frederic Bastiat said, confuses the institution of government with society in general. The crimes that you mention above that are punishable by law correctly fall into the realm of government because, at least theoretically, law and government exist to protect the people’s personal rights. So, while someone stealing my money or punching me in the face attacks my rights, someone deciding that they are going to define marriage differently than I do doesn’t.

      So, to argue that government doesn’t need to define marriage isn’t to say that society can’t do that. It’s just to recognize that there is an inherent difference between the two. Additionally, to give government the ability to decide something in your favor is to also give it the ability to force the other side’s opinion on you. There are now examples cropping up around the world where churches (religious social institutions) are being forced to officiate marriages that are against their doctrines. If you’ve spent all of your time arguing in favor of government’s ability to decide this question, if government ever changes their mind you’re out of luck.

      Finally, with respect to benefits, I would prefer that there be no government benefits, which is basically government-approved theft. With that said, my point was that it is pretty blatantly immoral to steal money from someone and then legislate away their ability to get any of it back.

      The summary of my views are this: that the states retain the authority on this matter, that government shouldn’t be entrusted with important social functions like this and that, most importantly, Christians (of which I am one) need to recognize that the politicization of issues like this only serve to make them more contentious and distract from the real solution, salvation.

  2. ” I do not, agree, however that the states can’t return this power to themselves. That is the essence of nullification.”

    –I absolutely agree! This is far from an area of disagreement from me. But this is not to say that it is the area of the states to redefine the term “marriage”, either.

    This means the people of a particular state can legitimately have the discussion of whether they want to foster a “family environment” through their tax systems, or what have you. There is no moral obligation on the part of society to ensure equal distribution of government services or funds. This is a discussion which is supposed to be taking place on the state level (and can take place on a county/local level as well, if desired). But the whole notion of “redefining” words which are already in place in laws/decisions which have previously been made, to expand such benefits to other circumstances which are NOT covered by the agreed upon laws, is fraud and NOT a legitimate function of government, at any level.

    “…with respect to benefits, I would prefer that there be no government benefits, which is basically government-approved theft. With that said, my point was that it is pretty blatantly immoral to steal money from someone and then legislate away their ability to get any of it back.”

    There is no moral obligation on the part of the people of a state to say that ALL businesses should get some sort of tax incentive, though there may be a benefit to the people of the state to give incentives to some business. For example, a state (the people of that state!) may deem it valuable to give tax incentives to a trucking firm. This is a discussion which the people of a state should have. However, if they decide this is a good idea, this does not morally obligate them to offer the identical incentives to a whore house. (granted, an extreme, but illustrative)

    The whole notion of these issues NOT being decided on the federal level, is that it gives the people of the various states the ability and option to live in the state which most suits their desired manner of living. So in one state, they may decide to allow, and even offer incentives to prostitution, or recreational marijuana, but they alone would reap the benefits or consequences of such a decision. All the other states can look at the result of their decision, and use those facts in their discussion/decision to do likewise. (NOTE: This is the exact process used for Conceal Carry, in the various states. If you prefer to NOT live in a state with a CCW law available in a Shall Issue mode (or perhaps you don’t want to live in a Constitutional Carry state, you have that option. However, if the feds decide this issue, you have no choice.)

    Taxation is not theft! This is a notion that MUST be abandoned in any discussion of governmental functions. Taxation is part of the American society, and ALWAYS has been, and it is ESSENTIAL to a free state. We do not have an utopian, moral society which we exist in, thus…
    “We hold these 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

    Now, we agree to taxation to provide for the instituted governments to perform certain, AGREED upon functions, which of course, we have outlined in our respective state Constitutions, and the federal Constitution…, once those governments usurp powers which are not enumerated in those agreements, then they are indeed illegitimate in taxing for those those functions….but is is critical to keep this argument separate from some sense of “fairness”, which are alluded to in your quote above.

    Federalist 45, penned by Madison: … “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. “…

    If the federal government is operating in a manner which is OUTSIDE of their Constitutional mandate, is it immoral for them to bar the benefits of this operation to some, but not others? No, they are immoral because they are outside of their Constitutional mandate. Offering their immoral benefits to the universal population of the United States does not make the immoral action, moral.

    Just to wrap this up on a point of agreement. The People, via their states, have all the power they need to stop this immorality on the part of the federal government. The Nullification process is one tool for this, a very good tool, and a necessary tool. As more People, via their states, nullify the usurpations of the federal government, then the desire of any group to lobby the federal government to get the full force of the federal government to impose their will upon the whole of the nation, will wane and wither on the vine. It will make no sense to lobby Congress for a redefinition of marriage (or health care, EPA regulations, business restrictions, etc.) if the federal government has no power in those areas.

    I do caution folks to be watchful of the quick blurring of “libertarianism” with the principles of socialism/communism, which is very easy to do once the slippery slope of “fairness” is stepped upon. It is one thing to say that people should have the Liberty to pursue Happiness, it is quite another to suggest that it is the function of government, or the responsibility of the people of society to “sanction” such pursuit, in the quest for “fairness”.

    1. I think we’re in agreement on more than we’re in disagreement on, especially on the principle question of whether or not the federal government can constitutionally decide this question.

      Two quick points. First, if I take money from you under the threat of violence or kidnapping and give it to someone else, that is theft. This is what taxation is, at least income taxation. If you do not pay your taxes you get thrown in the pokey. Again I appeal back to Bastiat who said that if something is illegal for an individual to do, it is also wrong for a group of individuals calling themselves the government to do the same thing. Now, admittedly there are forms of taxation that could be arguably said to be not theft (tariffs, etc), but expropriating money from individuals would certainly be defined as theft if anyone else did it. Of course, if the citizens of an individual state decided that they were ok with this, that’s their prerogative.

      Second, I don’t think that libertarianism leads to socialism/communism. Libertarianism, at least the way I view it, says that society can handle disagreements without resorting to the coercive power of government. In fact, it is the never-ending fight for control of this power that leads to socialism and communism. With a few exceptions, what libertarians are saying is not that everything should be “fair”, it is that society and all its institutions can handle these issues much better with more freedom preserved for everyone without government intervention.

      1. Agreed, income tax is an illegitimate form of taxation. This was addressed by the Founders in the Constitutional debates, and they too found it illegitimate. Any taxation which is a tax on “mere existence” is illegitimate.

        Taxes on use of government services, excise taxes, are Constitutional, as are import/export taxes, for the Constitutional purposes.

        Ironically, many point to the 16th Amendment as the source of authority of the income tax, but even the Supreme Court stated that it gave the federal government no additional taxing authorities. But, that is a whole different discussion.

        Your expressed beef with “taxation as theft” seems to be less with taxation, but more with wealth redistribution, with of course I too am opposed to, as were the Founders and the Constitution(s).

        I do not assert that libertarianism leads to socialism/communism, however, the line between the two ideologies often get confused/blurred, as libertarians assert the notion that government has no place to protect, or preserve the social norms/standards of the people it serves. This is the “you can’t legislate morality” crowd. The liberals don’t want social norms upheld, because they want to destroy the Founders America, so they can erect their socialist/communist “utopia”. Libertarians often join ranks with them, under the guise of ‘personal liberty’, but they neglect to understand there is no “libertarian utopia”, and this notion is contrary to the view of the Founders, and the governmental system which they established.

        Both libertarianism and socialism/communism are anti-Founders, anti-Constitution, anti-American Liberty. But, I guess, again, I have diverged off of the original topic.

        I will relate it back in stating that the American People are the ones who need to be making the changes in the Constitution, and the definitions contained there in. It is not in the area of authority of the federal government, any branch/agency. The resolution to the DOMA law was NOT for Obama refusing to enforce it, nor was it for the 9 Black robes to overturn it, but it was for the People to overturn is if that was their desire. They could have done this via the same legislative process which installed it, or via nullification on the state level.

        Nothing in DOMA barred a state from taking up the issue, in fact, most of the states have. However, IF the federal government is going to embark on the area of American’s lives, of marriage, they do not have the option to willy-nilly “adjust” the definitions of words within a law, or the Constitution….this is the “living, breathing document” doctrine, and is tyranny.

        1. Regarding libertarianism, I really don’t think it’s accurate to describe it as anti-Founders, Constitution or American liberty. The Constitution is really just a document that is setting up a political structure, so it is not inherently libertarian, but neither is it inherently conservative or liberal (in the modern usage of those words). Inasmuch as libertarianism seeks to restrain government, there are parts of it that are much more in line with many of the Founders than mainstream conservatism or liberalism.

          Also, a little off topic, I guess I categorize myself among the “you can’t legislate morality” crowd and I don’t consider myself a trying to construct some libertarian utopia. I just believe that involving the government in moral issues is counterproductive and dangerous. See here for a more detailed explanation.

          With regard to DOMA, it was absolutely within the purview of the Supreme Court to strike it down. The issue of judicial review was contentious during the constitutional debates, but it was generally accepted when the Constitution was adopted. If a federal law is outside the boundaries of the Constitution, as DOMA clearly was, then the Supreme Court is permitted to strike it down. Of course the Supreme Court very rarely makes constitutionally accurate decisions and, even in this one, it’s logic and legal analysis were wrong. DOMA was unconstitutional precisely because the states have the authority to decide this matter and, when the federal government attempts to usurp the states’ authority, the law is unconstitutional.

          If DOMA had been a state law and the Supreme Court had struck it down, then it would have been acting unconstitutionally.

  3. In an effort to break up my thoughts/posts….

    This discussion stems from the imposition of the federal government in to areas where they have no Constitutional mandate to operate in. But who is to determine what areas the federal government can operate in, and what are they to use as a measure for such determination?

    The Founders were rather clear about this subject. After living under a totalitarian government, one which they were “subjects” of (and of course their close study of various contemporary and history forms of governments), they understood that the only form of “government” which can provide the Liberty they sought, was one based on the understanding it is the People are the “Owners” of their country, and the government is “instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

    So it is the People who are charged with the responsibility and obligation of determining which areas the federal government (and for that matter, the state and local governments as well) is authorized to operate in.

    But what are they to use as a measuring stick for such determination? The Founders addressed this clearly as well.

    They clearly proclaimed that a democracy, the people directly making the decisions in the government. base on their “feelings”, would NOT secure Liberty, and would lead to tyranny. So if not directly by the People, then how?

    One of the PRIMARY concerns of the Founders was that under the British Crown, they were not allowed the Liberty of following the commands and desires of their Creator. They set as their primary responsibility being to God (that is the God of the Bible for those keeping score at home), and the dictates of King George (or any king) were becoming contradictory to the will of God. So our Founders rightfully understood they could be forced into a situation as many martyrs of the Bible, faced with having to decide between their loyalty to God and their positions of “subjects” to an earthly government.

    The Founders did not want a government which forced this decision upon them, or their posterity. (of course, contained in the First Amendment)

    So when they were afforded the opportunity to establish a government for themselves, and their posterity, they did so with the goal of establishing a government which was not able to position itself between the individual and God.

    This leads us to the measuring sticks available to “We the People” in determining if our government is out of bounds.

    First, we have the Constitutions, this means both the federal Constitution and the individual state Constitutions.

    The Founders took great pains to ensure that these foundational documents were not constructed in a manner which institutionalized conflicts between Biblical Principles of Liberty, and the government. So they used as a foundation for these documents, the Bible and the will of God as revealed within the Bible.

    Now for those who say, “I am not a believer, or I don’t agree with the Bible”, I say, well, that is your prerogative, however, that does not negate the fact that the Bible is the Foundation of the Constitution. So if you choose to ONLY use the Constitutions as your measuring stick, I am fine with that, because I understand that these documents are in harmony with the Bible, not in contrast to them. If we all use the Constitutions, as the Founders established them, and applying original intent of the Constitutions, as clearly related to us by the Founders, then we will have a government which is also in harmony with the Bible (or perhaps, better put, one which is not in direct opposition to the Bible).

    However, I will accept there will be times where the People of a local, county, state, or even country, have a debate about amendments to the Constitution, or the meaning of Constitutional provisions. During these debates, we are obligated to refer to the “original intent” of the Founders, and those who accepted and ratified the Constitutions.

    Along with these tools, it is essential that those who hold the Bible at their ultimate measuring stick, consider any potential conflicts which the proposed changes will impact their relationship with God. If the provision is in direct conflict with Biblical principles, they need to work to prohibit these provisions. The irony is, those provisions which governments (past and current) have which are in conflict, or contradiction to the Biblical principles, are most often those provisions which allow for oppression and tyranny. (why do all your favorite totalitarian governments either try to abolish religion, or are products of religious practices which are directly opposed to the Bible?)

    None of the above is to suggest that religion of any sort be forced upon individuals. However, as the Founders understood, the principles of the Bible are the very principles which were the foundation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Constitutions of the various states. These principles ARE the principles which allow for Freedom and Liberty, and they ARE the measuring stick which the Founders used to determine if they were on the right track as they drafted the above documents, and debated these documents. Understanding where they went to measure their efforts will better allow us to measure our efforts in determining “Constitutionality” of proposed changes/determinations.

    1. With respect, here’s where I believe you’re wrong:

      First, the colonists were perfectly happy being “subjects” of the British King. Their primary issue was that parliament was taxing and otherwise governing them without their representation in that legislative body. The colonists believed in the traditional right of Englishmen of self-government and it was to recapture that right that they rebelled. In this way, the American Revolution can accurately be termed “conservative”. There are many great books that talk about this period, but I would suggest M. Stanton Evans’s “The Theme is Freedom” (linked to on my “Books/History” page).

      Of the 13 colonies, there were some that were more concerned about religious matters than others and even those who were concerned about them took different opinions. For instance, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, while holding people within their religious communities to strict standards, did not seek to apply those standards to non-believers by government force. The Puritans of New England, however, were much more likely to have strict codes of conduct codified into law.

      Because they were extremely protective of their respective unique cultures, the Constitution was designed to give a few, specific powers to the federal government, particularly relating to national defense and some commerce. There is nothing within the federal Constitution that is inherently based on the Bible and the First Amendment was a limitation on the federal government only (a statement verified by the fact that several states had official governments well into the 19th Century). This shouldn’t be an uncomfortable position for Christians, for the only thing it says is that the states were unique political societies, something that is very apparent by the Founders’ own words

      Now, admittedly, I’m not familiar with the constitutions of every state, but I feel confident in saying that it is incorrect that each of them was instated with the primary goal of instituting biblical law or a certain moral code. This is not to say that Christianity played no role in the formation of law in America and the West (as Evans’s book shows, it clearly did), but it’s a stretch to say that it was the homogenous desire of all the states to codify morality into law.

      Ultimately, I think you’re placing too much emphasis on the Bible as an interpretation device for law (it clearly has more important roles to play) and this perspective would have been outside the thought of, say, Thomas Jefferson when he was writing the Declaration of Independence. Certainly the ideas of personal liberty have strong roots in the religion of the Bible, but it’s a far leap to say that this leads to the type of government that you’ve advocated above. I would really highly suggest “The Theme is Freedom”. It takes the reader through the formation of the philosophies of liberty and shows the crucial role that the Bible played in that.

  4. While I place lesser value in reading the “opinions” of others about the Founders and their views, and much prefer to read the actual words of the Founders (which there are volumes more than most can read in a life time), and consider their actions. I will, however, put “The Theme is Freedom” on my reading rotation. As I read author’s interpretations of the Founders, I lean back on my own direct readings to compare their biased views to those I understand from the Founders directly (we all have biases, so having a common, and unchanging measuring stick is often very handy to compare and contrast views.)

    I urge you to take some time to look at the Constitutions of the various states, especially the early states. Here is a good link to the original 13 colonies first Constitutions:

    If you take the opportunity to look through them (they are really short documents), you may notice that nearly everyone of them assert, to various degrees, the Right to worship God. Some do so early on, some later in the document, and some more completely than others. Some have specific emphasis of the Bible, Jesus Christ, and Christianity. This was obviously of concern enough for them to state in their Constitutions, many written during the Revolutionary War.

    Within the Declaration itself, the list of “grievances” do not specifically mention an abuse of religious freedoms, however, spending time reading the Founders writings on their reasons to disband their relationship with the King, it is very difficult to NOT stumble over their concern that if the King can arbitrarily dictate “laws” outside of their Colonial Charters (which most have statements of freedom of religion within them) that he can infringe upon those rights as well.

    While the Declaration is an instrument to the “world”, or mostly an external audience, so it would stand to reason they would put less emphasis on their concerns over the King’s encroachments upon their religious liberties. However, looking at their “internal” documents, those of the Colonial Charters, State Constitutions, and even the federal Constitution, you see their concerns about securing their religious liberties declared more clearly.

    Breathing is probably one of the primary needs of humans, yet, how often to hear of this need in conversations, documents, etc.? I dear say, not very. However, you threaten to take this away from someone, you will hear about it quite often and forcefully. This is similar to what we see with regard to religious liberties from the Founders. Look at the devices which they use to secure their “Freedom and Liberty”, namely the Colonial Charters and Constitutions. There you will see rather clearly their assertion of religious freedoms. Because it was that important to them. And they often are not ambiguous about the fact that it is Biblical Christianity they are seeking to preserve.

    Couple this with their personal writings, and the picture becomes even more clear.

    So while I say that “a” primary concern of theirs was the loss of their religious liberty, I will admit that is was not “the” primary concern.

    As for the Colonist being content to be “subjects”, initially that was true, and this was addressed in the Declaration: ” Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

    Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to the falsehood of the 1/3 notion which states a 1/3 of the population was for independence, 1/3 against, and 1/3 did not care. This was far from the reality. The people of the time were heavily in favor of independence, especially once the war was embarked upon, and the Declaration signed. Prior to the events of April 19, 1775 (and even in some days afterwords) there were many who desired the return of their “normal”, but that normal was no longer available to them, and hadn’t been since about 1765. The Colonist overwhelmingly came to the understanding that to ensure their ability to secure their Liberty, and that of their Posterity, they would need to be an independent country.

    This played out throughout the war, as the British bought into the notion that a large percentage of the Colonist wanted to remain loyal subjects. However, they universally lamented about the lack of support by the Colonist in their efforts to put down the “rebellion”. In fact, this is one of the reasons they British state was the cause of their loss of the war.

    I don’t think the Bible is an instrument for “interpreting” law, but it MUST be an instrument in making law. If a law is repugnant to the Bible, it is repugnant to Freedom and Liberty. This is the connection that the Founders understood and applied.

    1. It is important to understand that them talking about the right to worship God and that, as John Adams put it, that the Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people” what they meant was that religion and the freedom to worship God was paramount to preserving freedom because it was out of Christianity that much of the philosophy of liberty grew. They did not mean that law should be used to enforce every command of the Bible, although again this opinion differed depending on which state we’re talking about. So in the federal Bill of Rights, or the state bills of rights, when they talk about preserving religious freedom they’re not talking about theonomy.

      This is very close to my own interpretation of the causality of morality in government. A moral people can cause government to be moral. A moral government cannot cause its people to be moral. If the people are not themselves moral, then any governmental actions will be ineffective. It is for this reason that I advocate Christians being less concerned about controlling the actions of people and spending more time working on the heart of the matter.

      However, a key point to remember is that all of this is the domain of the states, not the federal government. So, even if I disagree with you on the proper role of the government in regulating morality, we can at least agree that the appropriate venue for these decisions are the state governments. On this point the ratifying conventions were quite clear.

      1. Much above, we are in agreement on.

        The nature of Christianity is one of Liberty, choice, and personal acceptance. No one can “force” another to be a Christian, unlike some of the theologies of other religions. Christ only accepts those who accept Him.

        I like the way you phrased this: ” A moral people can cause government to be moral. A moral government cannot cause its people to be moral.” I did not intend any of my comments to imply that the government should “dictate” morality upon people, but rather, that government should be a reflection of the people, since it is a servant of the people. Much like employees can be a “reflection” of the owners of a business.

        In this respect, when a group of people propose a government sanctioning of laws which are contrary to Biblical principles, it is the duty of Christians in the community to oppose such laws. While some may claim this is “imposing their morality” upon others, but they neglect to see that nearly ALL laws have a morality component, and someone has to determine what that will be. The fact is, if Christians are not engaged in the governmental processes, they will have the morality of others imposed upon them.

        As you have pointed out, this will be of differing degrees, depending on location. The Founders banked on this to preserve Freedom and Liberty. One devise they relied upon for this preservation was the “competition” between the various states, each competing for more/better Freedom. If a single state were to become too oppressive, they would suffer because the people would leave that state for a better condition elsewhere, such as what we are seeing in the droves of people leaving California, New York and Illinois, for states like Florida and Texas.

        This process would not only weaken those offending states, but also weaken their standing within the Union, as they would lose House Representatives, and Presidential Electorates, and of course, over all political clout.

        This all is a device to keep government decentralized, because they understood that a centralized government is more easily corrupted and would more easily become tyrannical.

        It is easy for people to lose sight of the fact that “government”, especially in the framework of American government as established by our Founders, is a servant, thus a reflection of the People. It is the People who make up the government, the people in the Capitols are merely servants of those who sent them. All too often in modern America, the People have been convinced THEY are the ones who are servants or pawns of the government. From this perspective, it is easy to claim that government is “imposing” morals upon the population, but from the perspective the Founders had when establishing our system of government, this would not be the case, as government would merely be reflecting the moral wills of the People.

        But to bring this full circle, it is foundational in the Christian faith that “force” can not be used to bring others to a saving relationship with Christ, so laws which would attempt to do this would be unChristian, and against the spirit of what the Founders intended. And under the Constitutional separation of powers between the state and central governments, a state who engaged in such efforts would suffer much like a state who imposed laws which were patently anti-Christian and anti-Bible.

        While there would be differing degrees of the two conditions above, neither would be allowed to get “radical” or overly oppressive, because of the moderating effect of the People both being able to oppose these actions, and ultimately being able to remove themselves from those conditions. Thus centralizing these decisions eliminate the moderating effects, and allow radicalization in these areas.

        1. I think the one thing that’s important to understand is that I, as a libertarian, don’t advocate state or federal laws trying to “make things equal”. I believe it is unconstitutional for a federal government to do so, and unwise for a state government to try. What I advocate is simply no law at all as it relates to these social issues because I think government interference in them is superfluous and unproductive. I may not have been clear on that before.

          We’re totally in agreement on the importance of decentralization. I believe that decentralization is the enemy of liberty as well as virtue. It seems to me that in a highly-centralized government, the government becomes God.

          1. “What I advocate is simply no law at all as it relates to these social issues because I think government interference in them is superfluous and unproductive.”

            See here, I differ somewhat. I don’t have issues with a society, in a political sense, defining social issues. Frankly, it is totally unavoidable.

            At the extreme, look at abortion. One side of the argument says that it is just another form of birth control, and is no different than using a birth control pill, getting a vasectomy, or using other forms of birth control, or for that mater, any different than getting a boil lanced.

            The other side says that it is the killing of a human being, infanticide, and criminal behavior.

            How is this irreconcilable difference to be handled?

            If the government does not bar abortions, thus allowing them, they are allowing murder. If the government categorizes abortions as murder, then they have “interfered” on a person’s liberty to a mere medial procedure.

            This sort of conflict is common in many different areas of human life. (there have been societies in the past which condoned and promoted human sacrifice, as an extreme example.)

            The question that must be answered is who rightfully possess the “authority” to determine what position the society will hold, given that society as a whole can not hold a position which is unanimously held by all within the society?

            The answer, according to the Founders, is the People. And they barred the federal collective, under the Constitution from engaging in these areas, but they specifically held these areas in the responsibility of the states and people, respectively.

            In many of the “social issues” there is no such thing as a “non-position”, especially by the government. Either an action is permissible under the law, or it is not. Little “gray area” in many cases. It is either permissible under the law to grow and smoke weed, or it is not.

            This decision MUST be made, as a non-decision is a decision, in these cases.

            But if these decisions are made at the state level, then “wrong decisions” have less impact upon the greater of the whole country. Also, as the Founders viewed it, we can have 50 different experiments on a single topic, and thus in a year, reap 50 years worth of experience and knowledge. This process allows each of the individual states to evaluate and determine which course is best for them.

            It is a system of genius really. And it is absolutely terrifying to the central planners, as they want all to think that their elite educations, elite positions in society, and their elite positions as more caring individuals exclusively allow them to make these decisions for ALL.

            Mistakes in government WILL BE MADE, as it is merely a human created institution, run by flawed humans. The goal of the Founders was to mitigate the harm which government mistakes could have on the individual and their Liberty. And of course, that means the less centralization that better. If a city group fouls things up, a few thousand people are impacted, if a state, then perhaps a few million, but if Obama messes up government (or who ever your favorite President is), then 310,000,000 people must suffer, and there is no where to go to get out from under this foul up.

          2. Well, I don’t advocate no law in general, but I do believe that government is best confined to very few functions specifically relating to the protection of rights to life and property. Some libertarians disagree with me, but I believe that abortion is an attack on the right to life of a human being and should therefore be punishable by law (but, again, this should not be the domain of a central government due to your excellent points above).

            Frederic Bastiat very eloquently argued in favor of this limited scope of government power in “The Law”, which I read based on the recommendations of Walter Williams and Tom Woods. It’s pretty short, but powerful.

            Of course there are libertarians/anarcho-capitalists who argue that the free market could handle the essential functions of government. I’ve not delved too deeply into their philosophy, but I understand where they’re coming from. That’s just not a position that I hold at this point in my life.

  5. I am a big fan of the work of both Thomas Woods, and David Hackett Fischer.

    I highly recommend any volume from Fischer, though personally I have only read a few, so far.

    Both these men do a diligent job of pointing to their references which in many cases are works from the Founding generation themselves, which allows the reader to be able to determine for themselves the merit of the formers writings.

    The efforts of these modern writers make it easier for today’s American to look through the fog of the previous generations, the politics and distractions, and gain a more clear understanding of the course our Founding generation set our country upon. Knowing this intended course, the “original intent” of those who passed our country on to us, we can better understand just how far off course we really are.

    Much like my assertion earlier, we need to be vigilant in referring to the Foundational knowledge and understanding, when considering contemporary actions. This process will aid us in returning to the original course for this country, this people, which has allowed for such success and prosperity we have been blessed with.

    The concern I see for us today is a lack of historical, or perhaps better put, of heritage perspective on the part of modern Americans has lead this country well off the original course of this country. We are so far off course now, those who wish our final destruction can easily convince many that the path to “salvation” is one which is directly opposed to Freedom and Liberty, but rather one of “collectivism” and centralization of authority into a small body of tyrants.

    Without reference back to the anchored navigational beacon our Founding generation, it is easy for evil to convince people the best course out of our current turmoil is toward further ruination.

    Nullification, the proper Constitutional balance of power, affords We the People the opportunity to slow the pace of ruination, and even reverse this course. Coupled with the many other tools available to We the People, righting this ship can be much quicker than the generations it has taken to get us into such troubled waters. This is why it has been so critical for those with evil desires to try to totally disconnect this generation from the Founding generation.

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