Monday, November 27, 2006

The Crisis and Politics of Higher Education

By Larry P. Arnn
President of Hillsdale College

Many of our politicians have it backwards these days. It's not a shame to lose an election. But it is a shame to serve a wrong idea—which is what Republicans, while in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, have been doing the past six years in education policy. Most recently, they have been seeking to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965, the first and still the authoritative assertion of the modern bureaucratic state into higher learning.

A product of the Great Society, the Act provides direct aid from the federal government to colleges and universities and their students. With this aid comes rules, rules by the tens or hundreds of thousands, rules beyond the knowing of any person. Every year these rules are adjusted, refined, forgotten, remembered, and reinterpreted in countless ways by countless people. But every five or six years, relatively major changes are made by several pieces of legislation. This is what is meant by “reauthorization.”

Conservatives, when they argue for school choice (a good cause), like to say that elementary and secondary schools should be financed on the same principles as colleges, where student aid follows the student to whichever school he pleases. This is true enough, but it is not the aid alone that follows the student. Title IV of the current Higher Education Act regulates colleges that accept federal student financial aid (something Hillsdale College, honorably and famously, does not do). Title IV includes now more than 300 pages of regulations, and the failure of a senior college official to comply in a material respect can lead to heavy fines and imprisonment. Of course these regulations grow in number and scope every year. Of course they affect profoundly the management deliberations of any college that is subject to their commands—which is to say, practically every college. The Higher Education Act is the very model of bureaucratic legislation: top down, complex, requiring interpretation of endless details by everyone concerned, and placing power over local things in remote beings whose very job titles are indecipherable, and who, also, have almost no direct contact with the actual things being accomplished.

Federal aid to higher education is politically potent. This is true because people who work in colleges are powerful. It is true also because the public, for a good reason and a bad one, believes in higher education and thinks it worthy of public support. Education is rightly seen as the road up, the avenue of progress for all. Popular government, moreover, requires that a capacity for governing be widely spread, that education at all levels should impart the knowledge and civility requisite to good citizenship. Without these qualities, the people who make the laws will not act justly or respect liberty, and the people who live under the laws will not know what to do about that. The preservation of the republic depends, therefore, upon a proper system of education. At its highest, education is the contemplation of the ultimate ends in virtue of which means are selected for the sake of private and public happiness. The American people's recognition of education's importance creates favor for a Higher Education Act presumed to serve those ends.

Rising Costs, Declining Skills: Is Federal Aid Effective?

In addition to this old and noble reason for support of the Act, there is in modern times the acute problem of the expense of college. Since the passing of the Higher Education Act, college expenses have exploded, especially in recent years. Every constituency except the richest fears the cost of college in the same way that people fear catastrophic setbacks to their health. Government help for the cost of education is very welcome to those who have children approaching college age. These people are often unaware of the impact that federal regulation and subsidy of education have upon its cost. Anyway, they want help right now.

Thus most Republicans since Reagan have set their shoulders to extending and enlarging federal education policy, consistently making the situation worse. First and foremost, they have spent a lot of money. Consider: Since September 11, 2001, defense spending has risen 47 percent, while higher education spending has risen 133 percent. There are major increases in most higher education programs, especially those regarding need-based aid. Both the amounts available, and the upward limits of the income groups to whom they are available, have risen sharply. This cascade of funds exceeds all prior experience in rates of growth, except for the first heady days of the Act.

More recently the Republicans seem to have become aware that this additional spending is not quite getting the job done. For one thing, they cannot seem to spend money as fast as colleges can raise tuition. The people they mean to help are not better off, but the colleges are.

In the Executive Branch, a recent Draft Report released by the National Commission on the Future of Education—a commission formed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings—offers lots of ideas to cut costs. But the one federal policy that would work is not discussed at all, despite the fact that the Bush administration, in another department, has done some of its best work in pursuing it. In health care, health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible policies are making patients more important in the health care system. These patients are spending their own money, and in a miraculous development, they are more careful with it than they are with the money of others. Instead of learning this lesson, the National Commission is promising more subsidies to colleges and threatening regulation if they do not watch their costs.

The second great concern animating federal education policy is the miserable failures in basic skills, especially math and science but also literacy, of America's high school and college graduates. The National Commission's Draft Report offers an impressive number of ideas for dealing with this crisis. But they are all built on the same notion: that once upon a time, in the 1950s, the Soviet Union fired a rocket into space before the U.S. did, and so the federal government began funding higher education, and because of that we had a great coordinated national effort and became the leaders in science and technology. Secretary Spellings tells this story often. It is the same story that was told back at the time of Sputnik, and it was used effectively to justify passage of the original Higher Education Act.

This story is nice, but it cannot be true. Sputnik went up in 1957, after Americans had invented the telephone, the laser, the transistor, done half the work to discover DNA, settled a continent, covered it with railways, roads, airports, and communications. We managed to do all of this without the Department of Education. Federal aid to higher education started in small ways a year after Sputnik. We landed on the moon in 1969, twelve years later, barely time to get an undergraduate degree and then a Ph.D. No student funded even in the first year can have played an important part in the moon landing. It is not possible that federal aid to education had a decisive impact on the space race. Nor is it possible that our race with the central planners in Moscow was won by duplicating their methods. The genius of the American people lies elsewhere.

Academic Content: Search for Truth or Relativism?

Republican policymakers have strayed even further afield in addressing the content of higher education. A bill recently passed by the House of Representatives contains a statement on “student speech and association rights.” The “Bill Summary” released by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce says that this section is modeled on the Academic Bill of Rights, an idea proposed by David Horowitz. Horowitz, a lion on the campus and an effective guerrilla fighter in good causes, has reason to make his recommendations. He knows firsthand, by visiting dozens of college campuses where he is a popular speaker, how skewed are the opinions that reign there among the faculty. His idea of an Academic Bill of Rights is to turn to advantage the notion of balance and value-free neutrality to which those campuses pay lip service. Here is how he describes it:
All higher education institutions in this country embrace principles of academic freedom that were first laid down in 1915 in the famous General Report of the American Association of University Professors . . . . The Report admonishes faculty to avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student's immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher's own opinions before the student has had an opportunity to fairly examine other opinions upon the matters in question . . . .” In other words, an education—as distinct from an indoctrination—makes students aware of a spectrum of scholarly views on matters of controversy and opinion, and does not make particular answers to such controversial matters the goal of the instruction.
In another place, Horowitz writes:

There are no “correct” answers to controversial issues, which is why they are controversial: scholars cannot agree. Answers to such questions are inherently subjective and opinion-based and teachers should not use their authority in the classroom to force students to adopt their positions. To do so is not education but indoctrination.

There are truths here, which give the statement plausibility. Certainly students should not be browbeaten by their professors, and anyway good students are not persuaded by this tactic. One ought not to draw conclusions without examining all the serious arguments on every side. Evidence must be eagerly sought and neither suppressed nor distorted. These concepts are part of the substance of the academic life. And they are old.

Indeed, if the principles of academic freedom are real, they cannot have been laid down first in 1915. The very adjective “academic” is taken from Plato's ancient teaching ground. The first universities were operating, in the later 12th century, more or less as we know them today. A couple of centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson worked with fellow revolutionary James Madison to design a college curriculum. These men committed treason rather than submit to a violation of freedom of speech and conscience. Yet Madison wrote to Jefferson that it “is certainly very material that the true doctrines of Liberty, as exemplified in our political system, should be inculcated on those who are to sustain and may administer it” (emphasis added). Then, he commits a heresy by speaking of heresy:

After all, the most effectual safeguard against heretical intrusions into the school of politics, will be an able & orthodox professor, whose course of instruction will be an example to his successors, and may carry with it a sanction from the visitors.

Did Madison really mention “a sanction from the visitors,” meaning the governing board of the college? What can he have been thinking? But before we condemn him as a bigot, we should remember his resume. He cannot have meant that he wished to raise up generations of automatons, men who might, for example, do the bidding of a King or aristocrat merely because they were in awe of authority. That would be the kind of man Jefferson and Madison had lately expelled from the new nation by force. The co-author of the Federalist, the constitution writer whose preparation for that work was an academic study both exhaustive and profound, cannot have meant that education should be one-sided, partial, partisan, or shallow.

Jefferson, for his part, is famous for writing that there are such things as “laws of nature and of nature's God”—truths that are accessible to reason, and better known if the reason is trained to see them. Jefferson, like Madison, thought that an educated man would have investigated these matters—indeed, that he would have come to some conclusions about them that would decisively shape his life. Students, when they are young, must have a reason to begin the journey of learning, or they will not begin it at all. If they start out indoctrinated with the facile notion that “there are no correct answers,” they will be relieved of the burden of looking for them. They will be launched on a journey that can only lead nowhere.

Madison and Jefferson are not alone here. College after college has been founded with such words as virtue, honor, piety, freedom, right, and goodness in their mottos and their missions. These are words of value, and they are controversial words. That means in the academic setting they must be debated and discussed. At the same time it must be realized that whole institutions, many of them lasting centuries, have been built to teach or “indoctrinate” students with the principles that underlie moral and intellectual virtue.

Are the purposes of those institutions rendered obsolete by the principles of academic freedom that were “first laid down” by the American Association of University Professors in 1915? That was certainly the intent of that association. Its relativist principles have remade the university into the thing we have today. Colleges have not thereby gained but lost in openness, profundity, civility, and high purpose. The universities built on these new principles are a scandal of uniformity, of contempt for the unorthodox, of disdain for the backward folk who take the foundations of their colleges or their country seriously.

The relativism and utilitarianism of the progressives who laid down these principles is nothing but an invitation to the assertion of the will. It begins by undercutting the whole point of college, which is—choosing a traditional college mission statement at random—to provide “such moral, social and artistic instruction and culture as will best develop the minds and improve the hearts of the students.” (I borrow from the Hillsdale College Articles of Association, 1855.) In the older view, students should be invited to look, not to themselves and their own opinions, but rather outwards and upwards, beyond themselves to something against which they can judge the choices they must make. Shakespeare is beautiful and instructive, but not usually at first. He takes work. What justifies the work is the idea that some great thing awaits the one who does it successfully. Any recovery of excellence in education will entail a recovery of this older idea of the purpose of education.

National Standards and the Danger of Political Correctness

Turning back to the National Commission's Draft Report, we see clearly again how little the contemporary crisis of education is understood today even by conservative policymakers. The Draft Report promotes enforcement through a method that goes beyond anything ever imagined by the original Higher Education Act—national standards. Compliance with these standards would be examined through a test administered to every student in the land. The results would be published so that everyone may see. Accrediting agencies, which will be nationalized or anyway more tightly regulated, would use this “outcomes data” to accredit or withhold accreditation.

All the vices of “teaching to the test” are latent in these proposals. Charles Murray writes of the No Child Left Behind Act that it has not improved test scores and that it creates an atmosphere of endless drilling, which is poor for learning. And he is probably right. But even worse than the tests' ineffectiveness and waste of time is that they will be expressions of the worst forms of political correctness. One should fear this, first of all, because the National Commission is not interested in that subject. It justifies its reforms on the ground that math and science knowledge and literacy are poor, and college costs too much. This is true, but not exhaustive. Certain matters formerly thought important do not come up in the Draft Report nor, apparently, in the deliberations of the National Commission. The Draft Report does not mention religion, God, or morality. It does not mention history as a subject of study. It does not mention the Constitution, either for what it commands or allows, or as a subject of study. Although busy governing, the Report does not mention government as a subject of study. Philosophy, literature, happiness, goodness, beauty are not to be seen, even though these terms abound in the mission statements and mottos of American colleges whenever they are older than a hundred years and in most of the younger ones.

The Draft Report is devoid of any echo of the purpose of education as it is trumpeted in our first national documents. It contains no whisper of the sentiments from the Northwest Ordinance, those regarding “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.” It does not so much as murmur the hallowed idea that students should learn the lessons upon which America was built, the conveying of which lessons is the reason government would be interested in education in the first place. Have they read no Lincoln? For example, his prescription for public schools:

that every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby [be] enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions . . . .

These tests that will decide the fate of colleges will be devised later. One does not have to guess about their nature; they will be prepared by the most influential academics. Or one can observe the tests they write now. Take, for example, the College Board's Advanced Placement Program, and specifically its Teacher Guide, AP English Literature and Composition.

Nothing seems simple anymore, particularly where the introductory courses are concerned. There is little consensus among English teachers when it comes to goals, curriculum, approaches to literature, or even definitions of literature, or rather literatures . . . .

There is no agreement, then, about the meaning of the thing that is being taught. Formerly, there was a more “robust regard for textual authority.” Now,

perhaps most importantly?“objectivity” and “factuality” have lost their preeminence. Instruction has become “less a matter of transmittal of an objective and culturally sanctioned body of knowledge,” and more a matter of helping individuals learn to construct their own realities . . . .

And finally:

Contemporary educators no doubt hope students will shape values and ethical systems as they engage in these interactions, acquiring principles that will help them live in a mad, mad world.

Forget for a moment the selfishness, lassitude and despair that are latent in this notion. The student is taught that the world is mad: find your own way. If the text does not appeal to you, never mind. You are only looking for your own reality: Find what comfort you may in it. Little wonder that half the opinions of the Supreme Court today read as if the Constitution were unavailable to them. Little wonder that members of Congress write about education requirements ad nauseam, ignorant all the while of the great documents by which education was built in our country.

These will be the tests. College students will take them, and colleges who do not prepare their students to excel on them will be held up to ridicule and maybe denied accreditation. Poor parents, whose children will be taught to devalue all that has bound their family together. Poor students, if they want to waste their time in the love of Milton or Aquinas or Plato.

What is to Be Done?

To repair all this and place the education system on a better footing, there are two things that need doing, neither of them proposed so far during this reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The first is that we should return control of college to private people to the utmost extent possible. The federal government should do what Reagan suggested: go back to the things it has the constitutional power to do. As it withdraws, it should mimic the great acts of education support from our past, the Northwest Ordinance and its companion, the Land Ordinance of 1785, and the Morrill Act signed by Lincoln. It should decentralize authority to the states. Or even go one better: Let taxpayers keep their money, if they are prepared to spend it for something so vital to the public interest as education.

The second thing is to recover the tradition of liberal and civic education that has helped to keep us free by teaching us the purpose of our freedom. To do this, we will have to be willing to take positions on subjects that are “controversial.” We will have to organize our colleges to study the great documents of the American past and those upon which that past was built. This will involve us—gasp—in the study of the Western canon. This is not merely a good thing; it is “urgent.” The National Commission goes on at length about what is “urgent,” but it forgets a point evident in this little paragraph from an influential man of our day:

You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator.

This is from a statement broadcast to the American people by Osama bin Laden on November 24, 2002. He objects specifically to the thing that makes us what we are, the principles of civil and religious freedom. This man and his friends have killed more than 5,000 of us already. They seek weapons to kill us en masse. They offer us peace only if we agree that the right to make a law comes from appointment to the priesthood. Here is a truly urgent matter. We are in a war, likely to be a great and terrible war, a war for the central principles of our land. Perhaps we ought to study those principles. Then maybe we can remember the meaning of the doctrine that “resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”


The preceding is adapted from a longer article, “The GOP and Higher Education,” published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College,

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction: Will Farrell Turns a Page

Reviewed by Graham H. Moes
Graybrook Institute Film Critic

Ranking: 4 out of 5 stars

Apparently, there comes a time in every top comedian’s career when he feels the need to tempt fate and skate off onto the thin ice of “serious comedy.” Think Robin Williams circa Good Morning, Vietnam, or Jim Carey along about The Truman Show. Stranger Than Fiction marks that point for Will Ferrell. Turns out, the guy can skate.

Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a drab IRS numbers-cruncher who discovers he’s a character in someone’s in-progress novel. To make matters worse, the author (Crick can hear her narration at odd and inconvenient times) is suffering from serious writer’s block — mostly over how best to kill him off in the end.

If “a person with a problem” is the essence of every movie premise, Harold has the Citizen Kane of dilemmas — to find out who this author is and convince her not to off him, despite the fact he’s shaping up to be the author’s crowning achievement as a writer.

As Harold sets out to discover, first and foremost, whether his life is a comedy or a drama, we realize this is deeper stuff for Farrell, who offers the first truly restrained performance of his career — no small feat for the reigning king of cinema improv, whose movies are often built as much around his ad-libs as the script itself. Is it funny? Absolutely, but here the humor is understated, found in Harold’s quiet desperation on his metaphoric quest for the meaning of life and a life well-lived.

Whether or not those who loved the obvious and asinine Talladega Nights will appreciate Ferrell’s dry turn here remains to be seen, but director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) and screenwriter Zack Helm have managed to create that rarest of birds — an indy-style film with mainstream appeal.

Forster did the same thing with Neverland, exploring some of the same issues en route to a grip of Oscar nominations. It’s an indication of how good he and Helm’s richly textured script is that we’re able to buy Will Ferrell as a Christ figure. (Say what now?)

The film should also become a film school staple for discussion — maybe even an adult Sunday school discussion: At what point does Harold begin to exist? Why make the author’s home as empty and sterile as Harold’s while the professor of literature’s is a mass of color and clutter? Is Harold a Christ figure at all, or just an everyman in a universal Christologic framework?

When last I wrote about Will Ferrell, Talladega landed dead last on my Ferrell Films Rankings, far south of Bewitched, Kicking and Screaming, Elf and — cue the golden trumpets — Anchorman (Sorry, Borat. Clearly a better candidate for funniest film ever.)

Stranger Than Fiction doesn’t make that list at all, but it’s at the top of a new one I’ll be keeping for Ferrell. Because — as Harold Crick discovers — sometimes with life, and a good book, all you have to do is turn the page.


The preceding review was written for publication in the Clovis Independent on Nov. 17, 2007.

You Want Your Culture Back? Engage it!

By Jason Apuzzo
Libertas - A Forum for Conservative Thought on Film

Here is what it’s been like (until now) to be a conservative in Washington: you have access to the White House, and to the most powerful members of Congress. You have money - oceans of money - that flows through the coffers of PACs and think tanks. You have Fox News, compliant talk radio hosts, conservative authors, and internet gurus who will do your bidding. First and foremost, you have power.

Here is what it’s like to be a conservative in Hollywood: you have access to … none of the studios, nor to the most important independent producers, agencies, or film finance sources. You actually have no money; your films are frequently financed on VISA and American Express cards. You’re scrappy, and have to live by your wits, ideas and talent. Basically you have The Liberty Film Festival and LIBERTAS pulling for you, and a few odd people scattered throughout the system - most of whom are deeply fearful for their careers. Other than that, you’re on your own …

Perhaps now you’ll understand my attitude. The Republican Party lost spectacularly last week - with, I would note, the striking exception of one Arnold Schwarzenegger (and California Republicans generally) - because Republicans nationally are now bereft of ideas. They are no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. Republicans have become a pastiche of their former selves, riffing on the past, play-acting at being conservatives rather than actually being conservatives. If Republicans had a genuinely conservative record to run on, they would’ve won last week. But Republicans have no such record in 2006.

“Oh well!”

That isn’t really what I want to discuss, however. My concern is chiefly the media, and the state of filmmaking. Republicans, and conservatives generally, no longer take the arts or media seriously (nor do they take higher academia seriously) - and now it’s actually beginning to hurt them at the ballot box. ... I have gotten to know many conservative leaders over the last few years. A striking number of them have told us some variation of the following: that they like Hollywood and the media being run by the Left, because that gives Republicans ’something to run against.’ That the steady, unending stream of left-wing agitprop coming from Hollywood, along with the celebrity liberal activism, has been a great thing for Republicans … because after all, it riles up the base!

For example, Republicans are still convinced Michael Moore helped them win in 2004 by turning the public against Hollywood. I’ve personally heard this countless times from politicians in private, repeated to me like a mantra. Washington Republicans prefer having Hollywood as an issue to complain about rather than making a serious effort to change the situation. This has left conservatives in Hollywood holding the bag, working without resources or wide-spread networks of power, creating small organizations like the Liberty Film Festival or LIBERTAS to turn the tide.

But I wonder how these Washington Republicans feel now. Now that they’re out of power, I wonder if Republicans will remain so sanguine about Hollywood and the media being against them.

Let’s be frank: Hollywood does not support the war effort. And why is this a problem? Because ... America did not win a major war in the 20th century that Hollywood didn’t support. The operative examples here are: World War I, World War II and Vietnam. Hollywood backed the war effort in the two World Wars, and we won those wars. Hollywood either took a powder or outright opposed the Vietnam War, and we lost. [Similarly, Hollywood half-heartedly supported our efforts in Korea, and our military victories were correspondingly mixed.]

This should come as no surprise, because what Hollywood does is shape the nation’s narrative. And right now, as we fight the War on Terror and fight in Iraq, the narrative being shaped by Hollywood is this: that America is an imperialistic, war-mongering, ruthlessly profiteering, neo-fascistic Christian theocracy that does not merit the world’s admiration or allegiance. And frankly, it’s hard for America to fight and win a war when Hollywood shapes the war-narrative that way.

Conservatives simply haven’t taken this issue seriously. Instead they’re comically enamored with Fox News, talk radio and the blogosphere; and frankly I’d trade all of those in a heartbeat for Paramount, Warner Brothers or Sony. Or a magazine like Vanity Fair, or People. Why? Because that’s where attitudes are being molded - in cineplexes and at supermarket checkout stands, usually without conservatives even being aware of it.

Hollywood’s ‘war effort’ these days is not what it was in the past, to say the least. We’re getting no films like Casablanca or Across the Pacific or Action in the North Atlantic. We’re not getting Notorious or The Sands of Iwo Jima, nor Destination Tokyo or Operation Pacific. Instead we’re getting Syriana, Fahrenheit 9/11, V For Vendetta, Jarhead, The Road to Guantanamo, Flags of Our Fathers, The Good German, Death of a President, Shut Up and Sing, and on and on. How are we supposed to win a war like this? How are even supposed to be entertained with drivel like this?

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Conservatives once ran Hollywood, back when the industry’s titans were people like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Capra or Louis B. Mayer. They gave the country the movies it needed. Conservative producers like Merian C. Cooper (King Kong), for example, created films like the John Ford/John Wayne cavalry trilogy that self-consciously promoted an American mythology of individualism and bravery - to stand in contrast to the anti-American propaganda then coming out of the Soviet Union.

But conservatives don’t run movie studies anymore. Now we run The Weekly Standard. We’ve got Fred Barnes; the other side’s got Angelina Jolie, or Natalie Portman.

So this is generally what we see nowadays: conservatives write trenchant columns about tax policy while George Clooney romances starlets in film and on magazine covers. This week, for example, People Magazine will again declare George Clooney ‘The Sexiest Man Alive!,’ while Peggy Noonan will write another windy Wall Street Journal column about post-election malaise. I’ll let you guess which article will get more attention …

Until this sort thing changes, Republicans are going to seem out of touch, distant, old and irrelevant. The reason? Because the culture war conservatives say they want to fight isn’t being fought in Beltway think tanks or at National Review - in fact, it isn’t even being fought in elections, per se; it’s being fought in multiplexes, in People Magazine, on Xboxes, at Netflix and on YouTube. Conservatives not only aren’t fighting the culture wars, they don’t even seem to know where the battlefields are.

I’ve taken a lot of heat here at LIBERTAS, for example, because I occasionally find excuses to post pictures of Jessica Simpson. You want to know why I do this? I’ll make it really simple for some of you: because she’s a Republican, and because she’s hot. Find me a few more chicks like her - i.e., entertainers who don’t spend their days writing columns on eminent domain - and I’ll post pictures of them, too. But right now I don’t see many others.

You want your culture back? Engage it. Stop whining about it - go pick up a camera and try something new. Or better yet, since a lot of us out here already have picked up cameras - I’d ask conservatives on the east coast and elsewhere to invest in film. It also wouldn’t hurt if some of you back there on the east coast - say, at the Wall Street Journal, or at National Review or The Weekly Standard - actually covered what we do out here, particularly since your own world seems to be in the process of crumbling. Take this stuff seriously, take the culture seriously - or don’t whine about losing it, afterwards.

For you filmmakers: Godard once said the only elements you need to create drama in a movie are a gun and a girl. It’s that simple! And with digital technology, moviemaking is cheaper than ever. So go make some movies, make an impact, and perhaps some of the problems everybody’s so worried about in Washington will eventually solve themselves.

I’m reminded of the way some people seem to think that New York firefighters are the front-line warriors in the War on Terror. They’re not. The firefighters deal with terrorism when it’s already too late - and that’s what Republicans in Washington are like. They deal with cultural problems (typically through legislation) after it’s already too late. They refuse to engage the culture, get their hands dirty. They retreat into their east coast Ivory towers and think tanks and talk radio studios to analyze the culture, without making an effort to shape it. Those two activities are not the same thing. The culture is being shaped out here in California, not in Washington.

Republicans have been kidding themselves for a long time with lies like, “Michael Moore and George Clooney and Sean Penn actually help our cause!” Really? How are you feeling about that now that you’re out of power?

The preceding is an excerpt from a Nov. 16, 2006, blog post at Thanks to Graybrook Institute Film Critic Graham Moes for calling our attention to this important analysis.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"In Selecting Men for Office"

By Garry J. Moes

"IN SELECTING MEN FOR OFFICE let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate ... look to his character. The scriptures teach that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of (Respect for) God, able men, men of truth (faithful to their promises), hating covetousness (greed). "It is to the neglect of this rule that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breaches of trust, and embezzlements of public property which tarnish the character of our country and disgrace government. "When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he abuses his civic responsibility; he sacrifices not only his interest, but that of his neighbor; he betrays the interest of his country." -- Noah Webster, 1823


The rancorous mid-term elections of 2006 are history, and the victorious Democrats are (secretly gloating and plotting their revengeful counterattack for the past six years of humiliation while) positing statesmanship and bipartisan cooperation with the Administration on all things good for the country. Republicans immediately have opened their post-mortem and begun a sorry ritual of self-flagellation. Conservative pundits are asking what has gone wrong with the GOP; liberal pundits have no doubts.

What is wrong with the conduct of the war is really not the primary explanation for the election results, despite what the liberals would have us believe. What is wrong with the Democrats is too vast to address here. What is wrong with too many of the men and women of the GOP who have held high legislative office in the past 12 years might be discovered in the words of Noah Webster quoted above, especially in the area of "breaches of trust."

Whatever is wrong with the current crop of public "servants" (pardon the expression), however, pales in comparison with what is really wrong in the American civic realm: the American voter.

What I have feared for some time now is becoming painfully obvious: Americans are no longer qualified to govern themselves. And if they persist in trying to do so without some fundamental changes, life in this country will grow increasingly weird, even hellish. If our own vices, crimes, ambition, lying, injustice, fickleness and stupidity do not become the hallmarks of our existence, the highly motivated vision of our terror-striking enemies will. Until that frightening prospect happens, though, we will still increasingly become the helpless victims of every moment's political whim, polling vagary, demagogue and entertaining loony.

In words that now sound utterly ludicrous to many in our midst, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, set forth the essential foundation for American society when he stated in 1778, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future ... upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God."

Another patriot observed that the success of the American system depended wholly upon the existence of a moral people and that it was wholly inadequate for any other.

The statesman-orator Daniel Webster put it plainly when he said, "Lastly, our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted to any other foundation than religious principle, nor any government be secure which is not supported by moral habits."

In 1851, Webster cautioned: "Let the religious element in man's nature be neglected, let him be influenced by no higher motives than low self-interest, and subject to no stronger restraint than the limits of civil authority, and he becomes the creature of selfish passion or blind fanaticism (emphasis added).

"On the other hand, the cultivation of the religious sentiment represses licentiousness ... inspires respect for law and order, and gives strength to the whole social fabric, at the same time that it conducts the human soul upward to the Author of its being." Alas, these are values which are now of little consequence to the majority of the American people.

An earlier Webster, Noah, predicted our day when he wrote, "All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible." Noah Webster argued that the "moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis" of all our civil laws and life.

"America is great because America is good," the French observer Alexis DeTocqueville said in finding the America of the mid-19th century "aflame with righteousness." But he warned: "...if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

Near the turn into the last century, the U.S. Supreme Court could still declare: "Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of The Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise...." Our courts now find it necessary and constitutionally mandated that it be otherwise.

In the early part of 20th century, we could boast a president who recognized the absolute necessity of adherence to the Biblical system of morality and ethics if the American vision were to survive. Said President Calvin Coolidge, "The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country." Though we have recently been blessed with another president who could affirm that idea, it is clear that such faith is far from universal, and the foundations of our society and government can clearly be expected to crumble, either under the weight of our own corruption or the determination of our enemies.

It is hard to say when exactly Americans lost this vision. It was probably sometime before Bill Clinton. In America today, in politics, in social life and in the church, Biblical absolutes and objective truth no longer govern nor even serve as norms.

The Republican Party, for example, has abandoned the notion that parties are formed to advance principles. The party, born of principle, has now agreed to financially support candidates who openly flout the party's platform. It has forgotten the ideal noted a more than a decade ago by conservative historian Robert J. Nagle, "The formation of any political philosophy is basically an attempt to transform personal moral and social values into a platform acceptable to a great mass of people." In the place of parties based on political or moral principle, we now have parties that are nothing more than power blocs. Whosoever will join, enrich, empower and cultivate the power bloc is welcome; principles be damned.

The future is bleak as well, when the coming generation is examined. An analysis by Bryan Hayes, marketing director for Mount Hermon Association Inc., finds that 60 percent of Christian teenagers "say there is no such thing as absolute truth." Worse, in the realm of ethics, fully 90 percent of Christian teens say that "right and wrong depend on the individual and the situation." The Nehemiah Institute, which surveys youthful attitudes and beliefs, finds that both public- and Christian-school teens share worldviews which are thorough unbiblical, secular and even socialist ... and are deteriorating yearly.

Samuel Adams admonished religious, educational and political leaders in 1790 about their obligations to the young: "Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of ... inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system..." (emphasis added).

By all of the historic measures quoted herein, and many others which could be cited, Americans have now lost their ability to conduct a just and moral political system and will increasingly lose their right to governmental sovereignty.

What lies in store for us is increasingly becoming too grim to contemplate. As commentator Thomas Sowell recently put it: "Corruption of the government is not a private matter or a transient scandal. It is dry rot that either has to be cleaned out or else allowed to undermine the whole structure in the course of time. But if we cannot see that, then our problems are much bigger than [any individual corrupt politician or lobbyist], and will be with us long after they are gone."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sinning With Impunity: The New American Dream

By Garry J. Moes

Some years ago, Rev. Steve Schlissel, a Jewish Christian pastor in Brooklyn, N.Y., wrote an astute critique of The Revolution of the Sixties. It was, he noted, the era during which America formally changed its religion, after more than a century-long process of eliminating the old religion's standard, the Bible.

With that standard of truth, right behavior and justice gone, it was now possible to realize the central goal of The Revolution and the New American dream of today's Left: the right to sin with impunity.

"It was in the 60's that our civilization underwent its most dramatic change. That consisted in a glaring particular: the demand to sin without consequences," he wrote (Messiah's Mandate, 2nd Letter, 1998).

No assessment better explains why the American Left so warmly embraced the sex-and-lies scandal sired by Bill Clinton in the narcissistic Nineties. Though he initially denied sinning at all, the president later, with his parsed and steely-eyed admission of sin, publicly turned a moral corner which his contemporaries had turned more than 30 years earlier. As Rev. Schlissel put it, "Like a child stepping into the gutter after being told by the parent not to, the 60's generation brought sin ... into the faces of all authorities, and asked, 'What are ya gonna do about it?' The answer was a resounding whimper, 'Not much.'"

Mr. Clinton's entire posture and his formal defense could be boiled down to this: "I have sinned but no one has a right to do anything about it." The American Left, finding in their federal head a most perfect surrogate, have enthusiastically embraced this posture and upheld this defense. For in him they found their best hope to also sin with impunity. But the libertines of the Left were not the only ones to embrace the Sinner in Chief. It must not be forgotten that Clinton's popularity has still not waned much among the population in general.

Incidentally, this perspective also conversely explains why the Left so bitterly hates proponents of traditional moral standards and leaders who exude biblical moral absolutism, such as President George Bush, ordinary honest Christians, . These stand as actual or potential or perceived obstacles to the dreams of the libertine. This is also why, when representatives and advocates of moral absolutes fall, they are so loudly ridiculed and despise — for there is still one sin that cannot be commited with impunity in the assessment of the secular Left: hypocrisy.

Former President Clinton's leading defenders — the rule-of-men "lawyers" who argued his case in court and on television, the president's political partisans, and certain say-anything-and-everything-outrageous pundits — actually traveled further down the slippery slope. Going beyond an assertion of the right to sin with impunity, some found a veritable duty to do so. Hence the various arguments that it is really only expected good form — good sexual etiquette — to lie about adultery.

Then Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt took the case still further during the House impeachment debate. He angrily denounced the puritanical maniacs who, in his estimation, have created a moral standard which is "impossible" for any man to meet. Gephardt apparently would have us believe it is now morally impossible for the world's most powerful political leader to keep his zipper up and young girls out from under his desk while he conducts the other affairs of state and it is further impossible to then refrain from lying under oath about it. To defenders of this bizarre new public morality it is a shameful, unattainable "litmus test" to attempt to view any public official as a moral fiduciary.

A sizable majority of the American people, molded by the morally adrift Old Media, apparently found this all very reasonable, indeed wholly admirable. President Clinton, they held, should not be sanctioned for his failure to avoid the inevitable, because, after all, it was his right and duty and a mark of sexual chivalry to sin without consequence. By extension, of course, it is the people's right as well. In America, it should be remembered, rulers do what they do by consent of the governed, and so immoral leaders frequently take their cue from a people who love sinning with impunity.

The philosophy and politics of sinning without consequence have become pervasive in our society and culture, as several other examples show:
  • The fact came into vivid focus during the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. In this stunning example of how things work in a system where the rule of law is replaced by the rule of men, we heard Johnny Cochran and a sympathetic black jury assert the right to murder without consequence. In this particular case, the right to murder with impunity was grounded in a need to rectify the nation's record of racial wrongs. Justice now has nothing whatsoever to do with law or the facts of the case, but only with some subjective and ever-changing notion of social redress.
  • A "woman's right to choose" allows her to murder her own offspring with impunity. This acceptable and much lauded crime is only the ultimate among the vast array of acceptable behaviors spawned by the utterly destructive sexual revolution which blew wide open beginning in the Sixties.
  • Sodomites, like people in racial categories, are now said to be born that way ... are locked by genetic into their queer orientation ... and must thus be free to commit their abominations without consequences (the HIV virus be damned, or, better yet, embraced ). Even "man-boy love" is promoted, and unfettered pornography is insisted upon. To try to convert the pervert, as the American Psychiatric Association has declared, is the real sin against nature — this particular sin, like hypocrisy by moral absolutists, being another exception to the no-consequences rule, of course.
  • Related to this line of thinking is the whole "victimization" argument. If genetics and the immutable realities of birth cannot be invoked as authorization to sin, we can still find a rationale in the concept of victimization. Society has gotten away with sinning against me, so I have a right to commit crimes and other moral transgressions against society without retribution.
Gratefully, there are still a few statesmen and other leaders who recognize the grave danger to our national and personal lives in this legacy of The Revolution. Whatever their motives may have been, the Republicans who raised their voices during the impeachment debate on behalf of the rule of law were standing heroically in the breach. (Alas, this brand of Republican quickly faded from the scene and their replacements soon fell into the same behavior pattern.) Michael Krauss, a professor of law at George Mason University near the capital, saw the Clinton impeachment skirmish as "in many ways an important battle in the culture wars."

"I'm one of those who believe that there has been an erosion of values and legal standards in the country and that this is the time for the House of Representatives to stand up and say that the erosion will go no further," he told The Washington Times at the time.

Dr. Hafeez Malik, professor of political science at Villanova University, was quoted in the same newspaper as adding, "In the culture, there is a moral relativism, and you are seeing its effect in these political deliberations among the Democrats."

Such voices are increasingly rare. Yet the deafening roar of their opposite numbers cannot change the reality of the Fixed Moral Universe into which God has placed us all.

In His Universe, the City of God, it is impossible to sin without consequence, all wishful thinking and moral relativism to the contrary. "Be sure your sin will find you out," Numbers 32:23 warns.

Our sin will find us out because sin is rebellion against an inalterably just and holy God.

"...[W]e must know that God is holy — infinitely, eternally and unchangeably holy," writes Calvin Knox Cummings in Confessing Christ. "He cannot, he will not, treat sin lightly. His justice demands full punishment for sin. His holiness requires that the demand of the law be met in full. He would not be a God we could respect if he required anything less. Should we expect less justice from God than from a human judge? The earthly judge who lets a criminal go free without punishment is despised as unjust."

That last statement was written in 1955, shortly before The Revolution began to turn such truths upside down. In less than a generation, we now live in a land where it is no longer considered unjust for judges, juries, congressmen, the electorate or the court of public opinion to let criminals like O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, and hundreds of garden-variety criminals, child molesters and illegal aliens go free.

St. Augustine outlined what will become of a nation where sinning has no consequence; that is to say, where there is no justice.

"Consequently, if the republic is the weal of the people, and there is no people if it be not associated with a common acknowledgment of right, and if there is no right where there is no justice, then most certainly it follows that there is no republic where there is no justice," he wrote in The City of God (book 19, chapter 21).

To put it another way, it is simply impossible to live freely and safely in a land where people can sin with impunity.

Perhaps God will stay His judgment yet awhile if our national prayer could become that which still stands over the door of the Boone County, Missouri, Courthouse: "Oh Justice, when expelled from other habitations, make this thy dwelling place."

Judicial Supremacists and the Despotic Branch

The Federalist Papers constitute the definitive explication of our national Constitution. In Federalist No. 32 Alexander Hamilton writes, "[T]here is not a syllable in the [Constitution] which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution, or which gives them any greater latitude in this respect than may be claimed by the courts of every State." On the subject of federalism, he wrote in No. 81 "...the plan of the [Constitutional] convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, exclusively delegated to the United States."

In Federalist No. 45, the author of our Constitution, James Madison, notes: "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. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce. ... The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State."

Madison's outline notwithstanding, the scope of activities of the legislative and judicial branches today hardly resemble the limits of our Constitution — yet nothing in its amendments allows that scope.

Concerned for the potential tyranny of the judiciary, Thomas Jefferson warned: "The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch. ... The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please. ... It has long, however, been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression...that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary; working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped."

Jefferson continued: "At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions, nevertheless, become law by precedent, sapping, by little and little, the foundations of the constitution, and working its change by construction, before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance."

Some 200 years later, they are as dangerous as ever. Notes Justice Antonin Scalia, "As long as judges tinker with the Constitution to 'do what the people want,' instead of what the document actually commands, politicians who pick and confirm new federal judges will naturally want only those who agree with them politically."

The time is long overdue for Congress to make amends for failing to check the unbalanced and growing powers being arrogated by these judicial tyrants -- and altering the Senate rules is a good start. But our current circumstances are worse than nearly all analysts are admitting. Not only should conservative judicial nominees be seated, but those judges who are in violation of their oaths of office should be unseated by impeachment. Alas, as Jefferson noted long ago, "We have...[required] a vote of two-thirds in one of the Houses for removing a judge; a vote so impossible where any defense is made before men of ordinary prejudices and passions, that our judges are effectually independent of the nation. ... For experience has already shown that the impeachment it has provided is not even a scare-crow."


The preceding was adapted from The Federalist Patriot (March 4, 2005).

Borat: Not for the Slightly Uptight or Politically Correct

Painfully Funny, But Jokes Taken a Bit Too Far for Comfort of Audience

By Graham Moes
Graybrook Institute Film Critic

I hate being that guy ... The one who doesn't "get it." The killjoy who can't take a joke and just laugh along with everybody else without being so "uptight."

Mostly because I do get it. And I did laugh along with everybody else, probably harder than most. I just felt a little dirty afterward.

I'm talking about Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And if the title alone doesn't make you grin, you're probably no fun either; and boy, do I wish I wasn't standing on your side of the line here.

It's the reality-blurring mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the funniest of his HBO-show alter egos, Borat Sagdiyev, a fictional Kazakhstani reporter who wouldn't know the meaning of "politically incorrect" if he walked up and pinched it in the rear end — which would be tame compared to the outrages on Jews, women and general good taste he perpetrates in his film incarnation.

Cohen specializes in what the great Phil Hendrie has been doing on radio for years, portraying an extreme character operating in the real world for the express purpose of getting a rise out of those who aren't in on the joke. Or, when lured into agreeing with his smiling, dopey bigotry, exposing them for what they are.

Call it ambush comedy. And potent stuff it is. Using a mangled mix of Polish, Romanian and Armenian vocabulary, he's a painfully funny dead ringer for the real deal.

No wonder the government of Kazakhstan is this close to ordering Cohen's assassination at this point for portraying them as a nation of Stone-Age racists, drunks, rapists and general morons. (At a recent press conference outside the Kazakhstan embassy, Borat denounced as evil Uzbekistani propaganda the notion his country's national drink is not fermented horse urine, then threatened to strike back "with all our catapults.")

The movie gives the Jewish, Cambridge-educated Cohen a chance to string together his best bits from "Da Ali G Show" and earlier British TV incarnation into a road trip across America, where he goofs on everyone from feminists and frat boys to militant gays and charismatic Christians.

The problem is, a movie also dangles Cohen the tempting carrot to push things even beyond his HBO-issued license to offend.

Again, I get it. The antisemitic gags are meant to lampoon antisemitism itself, but the extremes Cohen takes things to here often go too far.

At a Kazakh hometown "Running of the Jew" event (funny), he's seen urging on the village children to kill the symbolic Jew Egg before it hatches (maybe not so funny), and later, when the village converts to Christianity, they hang one on a cross (definitely not funny).

When taken in by a kindly old Jewish couple, he compares them to cockroaches, tosses money at them and flees in the night. Ouch.

Then there's some seriously unsexy full-frontal nudity, pedophilia jokes, defecation gags and other stuff I won't go into. Beware, too, the all-nude smackdown between Borat and his 400-pound producer after Borat catches him with his sacred Pamela Anderson magazine.

Borat's appeal has always been his willingness to skewer sacred PC cows, but in moments like these we realize Cohen has slid from sharp, edgy satire into easy, ultra-cheap laughs.

Also problematic is the fact most of the best stuff in the 82-minute experience can be found already, for free, on

In another recent review, I compared Cohen to Peter Sellers. Sadly this outing has knocked him down closer to Cheech and Chong.

But if all this still seems like the grumblings of a prude... feel free to take your chances. You may laugh yourself silly. Just be prepared to hate yourself in the morning.


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5
  • Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
  • Director: Larry Charles
  • Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer
  • Released by: 20th Century Fox
  • Rating: Rated R for pervasive strong, crude and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
  • Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

This review first appeared in The Clovis Independent on Nov. 3, 2006.

The Vexed Question

By Garry J. Moes

In 1865, Southern congressman and political thinker Alexander Hamilton Stephens wrote, "How society is to be constituted so that all can attain justice; that is the vexed question." The question is becoming more vexing every day as American society increasingly falls under the tyrannical rule of a judicial oligarchy.

How this society is to be constituted was the seminal question at America's inception as its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, was written. It was supposed to be settled in law when America's groundbreaking Constitution was written. It is no coincidence that the latter document (and its counterparts in the several federated states) is called a "constitution."

The very purpose of a constitution is to FIX — against the whims of men and movements and the winds of unproven change in a fallen world — the fundamental nature and purposes of a society. It is supposed to be an anchor in the storm and a mooring in the time of tranquillity. In America's case, our national character was established in our founding documents as a federal, republican society based on the rule of law. Our system of laws was to be one facilitating a liberty that is self-governed under the authority of the revealed eternal will of a Divine Creator who has sovereignly chosen to endow His creatures with certain inalienable rights. To create and enforce that system of laws, a carefully devised political system was established, laced with checks and balances to prevent the re-establishment of tyranny — indeed, any concentration of power in the hands of a centralized force or in the hands of a democratic majority that might one day lose its moorings in the moral designs of its Creator. Eighteen-century France, in its pursuit of liberty, equality and fraternity, failed to devise similar restraints, and its radical Revolution, unlike America's conservative innovation, immediately devolved into mob rule and a reign of terror.

If there was any weak point in the American system of checks and balances, it seems to have been, as time is now proving, in the constitution of our national judiciary. While it was intended that this judiciary be independent to a large extent — to protect the rule of law against the designs of finite men, that notion was seen to be valid only insofar as this judiciary would be populated by men of true moral wisdom and committment to the carefully devised constitution of their society. Instead, the men and women who now hold the public trust as guardians of the rule of law have elevated themselves to be arbiters and creators of the law, not its interpreters, following their own notions of what is preferable for a new globalist humanity. To overcome the constraints of the real Constitution, these would-be philosopher-kings have invented the concept that they are the intepreters of a "living" or "dynamic" Constitution. But an ever-changing constitution is no constitution at all — it "constitutes" nothing. Rather, it establishes the rule of men, not the rule of law.

For more than a century, beginning perhaps with jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and "educator" John Dewey, a "living" constitution has been the ever-increasing, overarching, overriding necessity for judges, social engineers and unruly citizens who despise the true constitution of our society — those who would rather have a society of utopian, collectivist/socialist, amoral/immoral, pagan, secular, libertine, anarchist, humanist, sentimental, evolutionist, materialist, multicultural, hedonist, pacifist, globalist, modernist, post-modernist, minimalist, deconstructionist ideals and principles; in short, everything anathema to our intended national character, as envisioned by those who came to this virgin land to build and enjoy God's kingdom in this world.

The invention of imagined clauses and rights and tortured interpretations of our written and established Constitution has become the critical tool of today's social changers — those elitist revolutionaries who haven't yet been able to fully overcome the residuals of devotion to the founding political, social and moral principles still lingering in our society and body politic. The original system was so powerful it has yet to be completely defeated on its own merits and by its own rules; it can only be stealthily subverted at its weakest point if its enemies are to prevail. And in recent times, they have been disturbingly successful — so successful, in fact, that we are today on the very verge of losing the glorious system which has protected our lives, liberties, property and happiness so wonderfully these many years.

For this reason, the fight over the character of our judiciary must become the highest domestic priority of those who love moral self-government and liberty in this land. If international terrorism is the greatest external threat to our existence, the current assault on Americanism by and through the judiciary is the greatest internal threat. The intensity of our war on terror must be matched in every respect in the needed war on judicial tyranny, with every moral and political effort directed toward its defeat. We have only our nation, our safety, our religion, our future and the future of freedom in the world to lose.

Why Submit to Judicial Tyranny?

By Pat Buchanan

If Gov. Jon Corzine wished to make himself a hero to Middle America, the opportunity is at hand. All he need do is inform the New Jersey Supreme Court he will neither submit nor sign the law it has ordered enacted -- to put homosexual unions on a par with marriage.

At root, what that 4-3 decision, ordering the legislature to enact a new law sanctioning civil unions or gay marriage, is about is: Who governs New Jersey? It is about who decides what law shall be -- elected legislators or judges appointed for life.

In our War of Independence, in which New Jersey was overrun repeatedly by British troops, at issue was whether George III and a Parliament sitting in London, in which Americans had no voice, would govern us, or whether we would rule ourselves. From April 1775 to Yorktown in 1781, Americans fought and died to end that rule of kings -- only to have their meek and timid heirs submit to a rule of judges.

Let us go back to the era of Earl Warren that began in 1954, and consider what, in the span of a half-century, U.S. judges and Supreme Court justices, abetted by state jurists, have done to America.

God, Bible study, prayer and the Ten Commandments have been ordered out of all public schools and the public square of a nation that once proudly boasted of itself as God's country. Pornography has been declared protected by the First Amendment. Cities have been ripped apart, as judges have ordered students, based on color alone, bussed across crime-ridden cities to achieve an artificial racial balance. Abortion, homosexual sodomy and naked dancing in public bars have been declared to be new constitutional rights.

Of all these outrages and idiocies, one thing may be said: No legislature, no executive at the state or federal level would have survived imposing such measures upon us. They would have been hurled from office at the next election. When homosexual marriage was put on the ballot in 13 states in 2004, it was routed in every one by landslides as great as six to one. America rejects it.

Upon what ground, then, does the New Jersey Supreme Court stand to order an elected legislature to enact a law the people do not want? Answer: The court said that to deny homosexuals the same rights as married couples is to treat them unequally, and this violates the Constitution of New Jersey: "Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state constitution."

The operative words here are "no longer be tolerated." What the court is saying is that, though there is no right to same-sex marriage in New Jersey, and the state has never voted the rights and benefits to homosexuals it has for married couples, we, the judges in our wisdom, declare this to be intolerable.

Therefore, you, the legislators of New Jersey, and you, Gov. Corzine, are ordered to change the laws of New Jersey to conform to our idea of equality. A tiny minority of judges in America now dictates to the Great Silent Majority.

This is exactly what happened in Massachusetts in 2003. And had Gov. Romney told the Massachusetts Supreme Court that its 4-3 decision had no constitutional basis, and that he and the legislature had no intention of obeying its order, Mitt Romney would be the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008.

When Shay's Rebellion of farmers broke out in Massachusetts in 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." It is time for a little rebellion in New Jersey, and America. For what is taking place, what has taken place, is a bloodless coup by judges who have arrogated to themselves the powers of legislatures to make laws and remake society in their own image -- without recourse to referenda or free elections.

When judges in New Jersey can order legislators to write new laws that conform to their ideology, laws the people have not only not demanded, but viscerally and violently oppose, we have ceased to be a free country or a democratic republic.

"Who rules?" That is what is at issue in New Jersey.

For 50 years, this nation permitted the Warren Court, and its successors and imitators in the state courts, to create a body of judge-made law that has altered the character of our country, very much for the worse.

Again and again, the people have voted for candidates for president, Congress and governor who promised to ring down the curtain on this half-century of judicial tyranny. But still the judges persist in issuing orders that have no basis either in precedent or in the written constitutions they have sworn to defend.

Such judges need to be defied and they need to be impeached. Not obeyed.


Pat Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative magazine, and the author of many books including State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Father of the Century"

By Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.

But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. On a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life. This love story began in Winchester , Mass. , 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

"He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. ``Put him in an institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. ``No way,'' Dick says he was told. ``There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed Him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? ``Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, ``Dad, I want to do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ``porker'' who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. ``Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. ``I was sore for two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. ``Dad,'' he typed, ``when we were running, It felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

``No way,'' Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then They found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, ``Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?''

How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii . It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? ``No way,'' he says. Dick does it purely for ``the awesome feeling'' he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992--only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

``No question about it,'' Rick types. ``My dad is the Father of the Century.''

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. ``If you hadn't been in such great shape,'' one doctor told him, ``you probably would've died 15 years ago.'' So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass. , always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

``The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, ``is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.''

See the inspiring video below. Click here:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Age of Indifference

By Michael Boldea Jr.

Romans 13:11-12, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”

My heart is heavy, my soul is burdened, and as so many who have been called, anointed and charged to preach a message of warning and repentance to this nation, I am a weary man. Though the time is upon us, though undeniable events continue to come to pass, still most of Christendom suffers from a severe case of abject indifference. I often feel as though I am a man standing outside a building engulfed in flames, screaming at the top of my lungs for those inside to come out, to save themselves, to escape the fire, while all the while, those inside stand by the windows and wave merrily, coffee in one hand, donut in the other, unaware of the tragedy that is about the befall them. Seeing that they will not heed the warning, the only option left is to run into the burning building and drag as many out, by force if need be, and lead them to safety. This is the mindset that I have adopted over the years, for since early youth, when I served as my grandfather’s translator, I realized that some would hear and heed, but most would not.

There is no doubt God has been merciful to this nation, first having raised up men from within your own borders to speak a heavy but needed truth, men who were promptly dismissed or ridiculed as being instigators, those who would enjoy to stir up provocation, simply for the sake of being provocative. Though the message fell, in large part, on deaf ears, they labored, and wept, and labored some more, for it was their calling, their mission, their sovereign duty toward an omnipotent God, one they could not as readily dismiss, as the message itself had been by the masses.

Then in His infinite mercy, God called on faithful servants from half a world away and placed the same message in their hearts, in some cases almost identical, and sent them in the hope that perhaps the nation might heed the message if spoken from new lips. These too were promptly rejected, either for being too harsh, not having the right credentials, or not having graduated from a proper theological seminary. We have found a reason and an excuse to reject every messenger that has come, that has spoken, and that has warned.

In their hearts, some consider that surely God is merciful enough to send yet another messenger, to give yet another warning; as though they were waiting for a bus, they think to themselves, ‘‘I’ll catch the next one, I’ll believe next one.’’ But I say to you this day, the warnings have ended. To be clear in what I am trying to relay, for this is the core reason I write this article today, I will repeat myself: the warnings have ended. No new messengers are waiting in the wings; no new warnings are coming, but merely the visions and forewarnings of the specific judgments that are about to unfold. These words are not my own, and I write them with a heavy heart; but on three separate occasions while in prayer I heard the same phrase repeated, over and over again, ‘‘the warnings have ended, the warnings have ended.’’

The time has come for the true servants of God to weep between the porch and the altar, to lament and cry out, to stand in the gap and be fearless for righteousness’ sake. If you must stand alone, dear brother, than so stand, for you will be in good company, counted among such giants of the faith as Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They too stood alone in the face of overwhelming odds, with only the truth of God’s word on their side, but the truth proved to be more than enough. So I say this day, to you whom God has been urging to step up, to take up the charge, to be on the front lines of the battle that is raging, be fearless in unmasking deception, and propagating righteousness, for you are on the side of right. If our desire were to spread a false gospel, to deceive the sheep, to bring division to the house of God, then there would be reason for fear, for God Himself would be set against you, but since He stands with you, since He is the one urging you into battle, be bold and brave and confident in Him; you will always be the majority.

Recently I was rereading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and, weeping, thought to myself: "Where have all the valiant defenders of truth gone, those that even in the face of death would proclaim the name of Christ and pour out their lives to their final breath for His sake, with a smile on their lips? Is their time past?" Surely it cannot be, for this is the greatest time in the history of the Church, the time in which God needs warriors, faithful and true, fearless and uncompromising, to do battle against the forces of darkness. No, the time for the valiant, faithful soldier is not passed; but rather many of those who have been called to this service are quick to bow out, finding either excuse or justification for their unwillingness to do battle.

The time has come to blow the trumpet, while time still remains, for it is quickly running out, and the sheep that slumber are too many to number. It is incumbent upon all servants of righteousness to proclaim truth, and defend it, if need be with their very lives.

Jude 20-23: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”


EDITOR'S NOTE: The preceding article is one in a long series of prophetic warnings written by Mr. Boldea and his grandfather, Dumitru Duduman, founder of Hand of Help, a small charitable ministry working with the poorest of the poor in Romania. Both men, over the years, have related a host of dreams and visions in which serious warnngs and calls to repentance have been revealed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Origins and Dangers of the "Wall of Separation" Between Church and State

By Daniel L. Driesbach
Professor of Justice, Law and Society
American University

No metaphor in American letters has had a greater influence on law and policy than Thomas Jefferson’s "wall of separation between church and state." For many Americans, this metaphor has supplanted the actual text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it has become the locus classicus of the notion that the First Amendment separated religion and the civil state, thereby mandating a strictly secular polity.

More important, the judiciary has embraced this figurative language as a virtual rule of constitutional law and as the organizing theme of church-state jurisprudence. Writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, Justice Hugo L. Black asserted that the justices had "agreed that the First Amendment’s language, properly interpreted, had erected a wall of separation between Church and State." The continuing influence of this wall is evident in the Court’s most recent church-state pronouncements.

The rhetoric of church-state separation has been a part of western political discourse for many centuries, but it has only lately come to a place of prominence in American constitutional law and discourse. What is the source of the "wall of separation" metaphor so frequently referenced today? How has this symbol of strict separation between religion and public life become so influential in American legal and political thought? Most important, what are the policy and legal consequences of the ascendancy of separationist rhetoric and of the transformation of "separation of church and state" from a much-debated political idea to a doctrine of constitutional law embraced by the nation’s highest court?

The Wall that Jefferson Built

On New Year’s Day, 1802, President Jefferson penned a missive to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The Baptists had written the new president a "fan" letter in October 1801, congratulating him on his election to the "chief Magistracy in the United States." They celebrated his zealous advocacy for religious liberty and chastised those who had criticized him "as an enemy of religion[,] Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ." At the time, the Congregationalist Church was still legally established in Connecticut and the Federalist party controlled New England politics. Thus the Danbury Baptists were outsiders'a beleaguered religious and political minority in a state where a Congregationalist-Federalist party establishment dominated public life. They were drawn to Jefferson’s political cause because of his celebrated advocacy for religious liberty.

In a carefully crafted reply, the president allied himself with the New England Baptists in their struggle to enjoy the right of conscience as an inalienable right-not merely as a favor granted, and subject to withdrawal, by the civil state:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

This missive was written in the wake of the bitter presidential contest of 1800. Candidate Jefferson’s religion, or the alleged lack thereof, was a critical issue in the campaign. His Federalist foes vilified him as an "infidel" and "atheist." The campaign rhetoric was so vitriolic that, when news of Jefferson’s election swept across the country, housewives in New England were seen burying family Bibles in their gardens or hiding them in wells because they expected the Holy Scriptures to be confiscated and burned by the new administration in Washington. (These fears resonated with Americans who had received alarming reports of the French Revolution, which Jefferson was said to support, and the widespread desecration of religious sanctuaries and symbols in France.) Jefferson wrote to these pious Baptists to reassure them of his continuing commitment to their right of conscience and to strike back at the Federalist-Congregationalist establishment in Connecticut for shamelessly vilifying him in the recent campaign.

Several features of Jefferson’s letter challenge conventional, strictly secular constructions of his famous metaphor. First, the metaphor rests on a cluster of explicitly religious propositions (i.e., "that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship"). Second, Jefferson’s wall was constructed in the service of the free exercise of religion. Use of the metaphor to restrict religious exercise (e.g., to disallow a citizen’s religious expression in the public square) conflicts with the very principle Jefferson hoped his metaphor would advance. Third, Jefferson concluded his presidential missive with a prayer, reciprocating his Baptist correspondents’ "kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man." Ironically, some strict separationists today contend that such solemn words in a presidential address violate a constitutional "wall of separation."

The conventional wisdom is that Jefferson’s wall represents a universal principle concerning the prudential and constitutional relationship between religion and the civil state. In fact, this wall had less to do with the separation between religion and all civil government than with the separation between the national and state governments on matters pertaining to religion (such as official proclamations of days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving). The "wall of separation" was a metaphoric construction of the First Amendment, which Jefferson time and again said imposed its restrictions on the national government only (see, e.g., Jefferson’s 1798 draft of the Kentucky Resolutions).

In other words, Jefferson’s wall separated the national government on one side from state governments and religious authorities on the other. This construction is consistent with a virtually unchallenged assumption of the early constitutional era: the First Amendment in particular and the Bill of Rights in general affirmed the fundamental constitutional principle of federalism. The First Amendment, as originally understood, had little substantive content apart from its affirmation that the national government was denied all power over religious matters. Jurisdiction in such concerns was reserved to individual citizens, religious societies, and state governments. (Of course, this original understanding of the First Amendment was turned on its head by the modern U.S. Supreme Court’s "incorporation" of the First Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment.)

The Metaphor Enters Public Discourse
By late January 1802, printed copies of Jefferson’s reply to the Danbury Baptists began appearing in New England newspapers. The letter, however, was not accessible to a wide audience until it was reprinted in the first major collection of Jefferson’s papers, published in the mid-19th century.

The phrase "wall of separation" entered the lexicon of American law in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1878 ruling in Reynolds v. United States, although most scholars agree that the wall metaphor played no role in the Court’s reasoning. Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, who authored the opinion, was drawn to another clause in Jefferson’s text. The Reynolds Court, in short, was drawn to the passage, not to advance a strict separation between church and state, but to support the proposition that the legitimate powers of civil government could reach men’s actions only and not their opinions.

Nearly seven decades later, in the landmark case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court "rediscovered" the metaphor and elevated it to constitutional doctrine. Citing no source or authority other than Reynolds, Justice Hugo L. Black, writing for the majority, invoked the Danbury letter’s "wall of separation" passage in support of his strict separationist interpretation of the First Amendment prohibition on laws "respecting an establishment of religion." "In the words of Jefferson," he famously declared, the First Amendment has erected "‘a wall of separation between church and State’. . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach." In even more sweeping terms, Justice Wiley B. Rutledge asserted in a separate opinion that the First Amendment’s purpose was "to uproot" all religious establishments and "to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion." This rhetoric, more than any other, set the terms and the tone for a strict separationist jurisprudence that reached ascendancy on the Court in the second half of the 20th century.

Like Reynolds, the Everson ruling was replete with references to history, especially the roles played by Jefferson and Madison in the Virginia disestablishment struggles in the tumultuous decade following independence from Great Britain. Jefferson was depicted as a leading architect of the First Amendment despite the fact that he was in France when the measure was drafted by the First Federal Congress in 1789.

Black and his judicial brethren also encountered the metaphor in briefs filed in Everson. In a lengthy discussion of history supporting the proposition that "separation of church and state is a fundamental American principle," an amicus brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union quoted the clause from the Danbury letter containing the "wall of separation" image. The ACLU ominously concluded that the challenged state statute, which provided state reimbursements for the transportation of students to and from parochial schools, "constitutes a definite crack in the wall of separation between church and state. Such cracks have a tendency to widen beyond repair unless promptly sealed up."

Shortly after the Everson ruling was handed down, the metaphor began to proliferate in books and articles. In a 1949 best-selling anti-Catholic polemic, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Paul Blanshard advocated an uncompromising political and legal platform favoring "a wall of separation between church and state." Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (an organization today known by the more politically correct appellation of Americans United for Separation of Church and State), a leading strict-separationist advocacy organization, wrote the phrase into its 1948 founding manifesto. Among the "immediate objectives" of this new organization was "[t]o resist every attempt by law or the administration of law further to widen the breach in the wall of separation of church and state."
The Supreme Court frequently and favorably referenced the "wall of separation" in the cases that followed. In McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the Court essentially constitutionalized Jefferson’s phrase, subtly and blithely substituting his figurative language for the literal text of the First Amendment. In the last half of the 20th century, the metaphor emerged as the defining motif for church-state jurisprudence, thereby elevating a strict separationist construction of the First Amendment to accepted dogma among jurists and commentators.

The Trouble with Metaphors in the Law

Metaphors are a valuable literary device. They enrich language by making it dramatic and colorful, rendering abstract concepts concrete, condensing complex concepts into a few words, and unleashing creative and analogical insights. But their uncritical use can lead to confusion and distortion. At its heart, metaphor compares two or more things that are not, in fact, identical. A metaphor’s literal meaning is used non-literally in a comparison with its subject. While the comparison may yield useful insights, the dissimilarities between the metaphor and its subject, if not acknowledged, can distort or pollute one’s understanding of the subject. If attributes of the metaphor are erroneously or misleadingly assigned to the subject and the distortion goes unchallenged, then the metaphor may alter the understanding of the underlying subject. The more appealing and powerful a metaphor, the more it tends to supplant or overshadow the original subject, and the more one is unable to contemplate the subject apart from its metaphoric formulation. Thus, distortions perpetuated by the metaphor are sustained and even magnified. This is the lesson of the "wall of separation" metaphor.

The judiciary’s reliance on an extra-constitutional metaphor as a substitute for the text of the First Amendment almost inevitably distorts constitutional principles governing church-state relationships. Although the "wall of separation" may felicitously express some aspects of First Amendment law, it seriously misrepresents or obscures others, and has become a source of much mischief in modern church-state jurisprudence. It has reconceptualized-indeed, misconceptualized-First Amendment principles in at least two important ways.

First, Jefferson’s trope emphasizes separation between church and state -- unlike the First Amendment, which speaks in terms of the non-establishment and free exercise of religion. (Although these terms are often conflated today, in the lexicon of 1802, the expansive concept of "separation" was distinct from the narrow institutional concept of "non-establishment.") Jefferson’s Baptist correspondents, who agitated for disestablishment but not for separation, were apparently discomfited by the figurative phrase and, perhaps, even sought to suppress the president’s letter. They, like many Americans, feared that the erection of such a wall would separate religious influences from public life and policy. Few evangelical dissenters (including the Baptists) challenged the widespread assumption of the age that republican government and civic virtue were dependent on a moral people and that religion supported and nurtured morality.

Second, a wall is a bilateral barrier that inhibits the activities of both the civil government and religion--unlike the First Amendment, which imposes restrictions on civil government only. In short, a wall not only prevents the civil state from intruding on the religious domain but also prohibits religion from influencing the conduct of civil government. The various First Amendment guarantees, however, were entirely a check or restraint on civil government, specifically on Congress. The free press guarantee, for example, was not written to protect the civil state from the press, but to protect a free and independent press from control by the national government. Similarly, the religion provisions were added to the Constitution to protect religion and religious institutions from corrupting interference by the national government, not to protect the civil state from the influence of, or overreaching by, religion. As a bilateral barrier, however, the wall unavoidably restricts religion’s ability to influence public life, thereby exceeding the limitations imposed by the First Amendment.

Herein lies the danger of this metaphor. The "high and impregnable" wall constructed by the modern Court has been used to inhibit religion’s ability to inform the public ethic, to deprive religious citizens of the civil liberty to participate in politics armed with ideas informed by their faith, and to infringe the right of religious communities and institutions to extend their prophetic ministries into the public square. Today, the "wall of separation" is the sacred icon of a strict separationist dogma intolerant of religious influences in the public arena. It has been used to silence religious voices in the public marketplace of ideas and to segregate faith communities behind a restrictive barrier.

Federal and state courts have used the "wall of separation" concept to justify censoring private religious expression (such as Christmas creches) in public, to deny public benefits (such as education vouchers) for religious entities, and to exclude religious citizens and organizations (such as faith-based social welfare agencies) from full participation in civic life on the same terms as their secular counterparts. The systematic and coercive removal of religion from public life not only is at war with our cultural traditions insofar as it evinces a callous indifference toward religion but also offends basic notions of freedom of religious exercise, expression, and association in a pluralistic society.

There was a consensus among the founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government. The challenge the founders confronted was how to nurture personal responsibility and social order in a system of self-government. Tyrants and dictators can use the whip and rod to force people to behave as they desire, but clearly this is incompatible with a self-governing people. In response to this challenge the founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner and thereby promote social order and political stability. The literature of the founding era is replete with this argument, no example more famous than George Washington’s statement in his Farewell Address of September 19, 1796:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens . . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion . . . . [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Believing that religion and morality were indispensable to social order and political prosperity, the founders championed religious liberty in order to foster a vibrant religious culture in which a beneficent religious ethos would inform the public ethic and to promote an environment in which religious and moral leaders could speak out boldly, without restraint or inhibition, against corruption and immorality in civic life. Religious liberty was not merely a benevolent grant of the civil state; rather, it reflected an awareness among the founders that the very survival of the civil state and a civil society was dependent on a vibrant religious culture, and religious liberty nurtured such a religious culture. In other words, the civil state’s respect for religious liberty is an act of self-preservation. The unfortunate consequence of 20th-century jurisprudence is that the First Amendment, designed to protect and promote a vital role for religion in public life, has been replaced with a wall of separation that, in the hands of the modern judiciary, has restricted religion’s place in the polity.

Legacy of Intolerance

In his recent book, Separation of Church and State, Philip Hamburger amply documents that the rhetoric of separation of church and state became fashionable in the 1830s and 1840s and, again, in the last quarter of the 19th century. Why? It accompanied two substantial waves of Catholic immigrants with their peculiar liturgy and resistance to assimilation into the Protestant establishment: an initial wave of Irish in the first half of the century, and then more Irish along with other European immigrants later in the century. The rhetoric of separation was used by nativist elements, such as the Know-Nothings and later the Ku Klux Klan, to marginalize Catholics and to deny them, often through violence, entrance into the mainstream of public life. By the end of the century, an allegiance to the so-called "American principle" of separation of church and state had been woven into the membership oaths of the Ku Klux Klan. Today we typically think of the Klan strictly in terms of their views on race, and we forget that their hatred of Catholics was equally odious.

Again, in the mid-20th century, the rhetoric of separation was revived and ultimately constitutionalized by anti-Catholic elites, such as Justice Hugo L. Black, and fellow travelers in the ACLU and Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who feared the influence and wealth of the Catholic Church and perceived parochial education as a threat to public schools and democratic values. The chief architect of the modern "wall" was Justice Black, whose affinity for church-state separation and the metaphor was rooted in virulent anti-Catholicism. Hamburger has argued that Justice Black, a former Alabama Ku Klux Klansman, was the product of a remarkable "confluence of Protestant, nativist, and progressive anti-Catholic forces . . . . Black’s association with the Klan has been much discussed in connection with his liberal views on race, but, in fact, his membership suggests more about [his] ideals of Americanism," especially his support for separation of church and state. "Black had long before sworn, under the light of flaming crosses, to preserve ‘the sacred constitutional rights’ of ‘free public schools’ and ‘separation of church and state.’" Although he later distanced himself from the Klan on matters of race, "Black’s distaste for Catholicism did not diminish." Black’s admixture of progressive, Klan, and strict separationist views is best understood in terms of anti-Catholicism and, more broadly, a deep hostility to assertions of ecclesiastical authority. Separation of church and state, Black believed, was an American ideal of freedom from oppressive ecclesiastical authority, especially that of the Roman Catholic Church. A regime of separation enabled Americans to assert their individual autonomy and practice democracy, which Black believed was Protestantism in its secular form.

To be clear, diverse strains of political, religious, and intellectual thought have embraced notions of separation (I myself come from a faith tradition that believes church and state should operate in separate institutional spheres), but a particularly dominant strain in 19th-century America was this nativist, bigoted strain. We must confront the uncomfortable fact that the phrases "separation of church and state" and "wall of separation," although not necessarily expressions of intolerance, have often, in the American experience, been closely identified with the ugly impulses of nativism and bigotry.

In conclusion, Jefferson’s figurative language has not produced the practical solutions to real world controversies that its apparent clarity and directness led its proponents to expect. Indeed, this wall has done what walls frequently do--it has obstructed the view, obfuscating our understanding of constitutional principles governing church-state relationships. The rhetoric of "separation of church and state" and "a wall of separation" has been instrumental in transforming judicial and popular constructions of the First Amendment from a provision protecting and encouraging religion in public life to one restricting religion’s place and role in civic culture. This transformation has undermined the "indispensable support" of religion in our system of republican self-government. This fact would have alarmed the framers of the Constitution, and we ignore it today at the peril of our political order and prosperity.


“Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College,”

Daniel L. Dreisbach is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., as well as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University and his J.D. from the University of Virginia. He is author or editor of numerous books, including Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State; The Founders on God and Government; Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia; and Real Threat and Mere Shadow: Religious Liberty and the First Amendment.

The preceding article was adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on September 12, 2006, during a Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar on the topic, "Church and State: History and Theory."