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Text Box: Vol.5,Issue 9
Text Box: May 13, 2012

American Political Commentary

Veritas Veneratio Virtus

 

I. W. Parkins

Front Page

  IN THIS ISSUE-

¨ The Marriage Institution

¨ Some Odds and Ends

¨ The Mirror Image

¨ Religion and Modernity in the 21st. Century

¨ Prayer Issue, A Symbolic One

  RELIGION AND MODERNITY

IN THE 21ST CENTURY

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

Several millennia ago the relatively sparse and scattered groups of our ancestors had progressed sufficiently to question their own origins and reason for being.  It had become increasingly clear that they were something more than just another animal species.  They assumed that some special power was overseeing the limited world within their vision; and that such a power must be creative, much more so than they seemed to be. Such a power must be all or nearly all powerful. And they called the power “God,” or sometimes envisioned a group of Gods.  It was a great step in attributing meaning to their lives.  They would serve God, who must be their creator and mentor.

 

As their numbers and social organization grew, and they developed specializations of labor, one of the earlier of those was designated religious teachers who often worked hard at advancing their explanations of original creation and purpose, but did so with almost no empirical basis from which to work.  Meanwhile, there was increasing centralization of political power and structure.  Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish political leadership from a growing hierarchy of religious officialdom, on other occasions the two were separate and in conflict.  And that could be very suffocating, or disruptive, to society.

 

The American Constitution’s design and tradition has been to recognize and respect religion, but to deny it any special authority within the official realm of government.

Recently, a significant portion of Americans have attempted to deny to religion and its symbols any public recognition whatever.  That, I suggest, is to deny much of history,    from the earliest records of mankind and that of our own nation.  Such an approach is ludicrous, and deserving of no official regard.

 

Religion has two major aspects.  One is ritual and historical doctrine, with numerous refinements over time, it or at least the Christianity with which most Americans are familiar, originated long before this nation existed and prior to discovery of such instruments as telescopes.  It assumes a universe that is tiny and simple by comparison with what we now know to be vast to the point of trivializing what our ancestors were aware of just a few centuries ago.  In the empirical universe of today the concepts of God, hence God’s “laws”, are without any meaning beyond simple custom.

 

There is, however, another aspect of religion besides its lack of empirical foundations for much that it advocates.  Religion, especially the Judeo-Christianity which most of us have inherited, has been and, it is yet, an institution that promotes civility and honesty among human individuals.  And, in that respect, its role may be even more vital now than it was to smaller and more isolated communities of humans. Those among us who are most inclined to notice only the aspect of religion that concerns empirical truths too often fail to recognize the need in our complex society for greater tolerance of others and for public civility. America’s reputation as a place of both exceptional individual freedom and civility is rarely found beyond the smaller and more homogenous societies.

 

Is it really a diminution of religion to regard it as a product of humans?

THE MARRIAGE INSTITUTION

By Ivan W. Parkins

In light of the recent state constitutional vote in North Carolina on Marriage being between a Man and a Women and the President’s recent acclamation of his support of Gay Marriage, I have decided to re-publish this article.

             Gay marriage has recently been banned by a substantial majority of California voters, but that was overturned by a federal district court judge citing broad/thin “equality” grounds.

             Historically, marriage between a man and a woman is an institution of most cultures, older and more deeply rooted than institutions such as democracy and constitutionalism.  Its primary function is to encourage and foster the preservation of the society itself, by means that will produce and nourish children.  It is not something to be altered lightly by any society/nation that expects to survive. 

             Once, a century and a half ago, we dealt with the legality of equal rights for Americans of different races, our most bloody war.  And it took another century of civil and legal efforts to make that outcome reasonably effective. 

             Just extending voting rights to women and eighteen year olds, during the past century required Constitutional Amendments XXIV and XXVI.  To treat a major alteration of  the marriage institution more lightly would be, at best, ridiculous.        

 THE MIRROR IMAGE

A journey through the Looking Glass

By Ivan W. Parkins

I’m dedicating this to “progressive” constitutionalism and to that great English legalist Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

     Isn’t “progressive” constitutionalism grand?  A federal judge tells us that the “equal protection of the laws” phrase, from a post-Civil War amendment and originally interpreted as relating only to matters of that time, now outweighs popular sovereignty.  And, an elected President, who is both an honored graduate of our foremost law school, and an ex-professor of constitutional law, says that he will accept that interpretation while enforcing America’s laws.

     Could not a further constitutional advance now be based upon strict equality grounds, and facilitated by comprehensive national health care?  Nature’s greatest discrimination could soon be corrected.  Americans could be required to seek, and national health care could provide each with, at least one sex-change after they have reached a mature point in their lives.

     Two valuable side effects are likely from such a reform.  At least for this nation and its imitators, the likelihood of over-population will wane.  Also, the pressure of immigrants seeking to become Americans should abate.     My thanks, again, to the man who has helped me most to  comprehend “progressive” constitutionalism, the man best known as Lewis Carroll!

 SOME ODDS AND ENDS OF AMERICA'S

CONSTITUTIONALISM

By Ivan W. Parkins

It is increasingly vital to America that we achieve more public agreement about some aspects of the Constitution under which we live and exist as a national state.

 

For example, there are a couple of respects in which too many Americans are in conflict or just confused regarding the First Amendment and its interpretation.  One is that its present position, i.e. first among the liberties enumerated in The Bill of Rights, should give it special weight..  Far too many people merely assume that that position implies a priority set by the Framers.  Actually, James Madison and others of the Framers who served in the First Congress, and added the Bill of Rights, placed close personal relationships between Representatives and those that they represented first among the Rights that they submitted for ratification.  That was ratified by some, but not by the required three-quarters of the states, and it is now essentially forgotten.  Today, our Representatives are expected to remain in intimate contact with about a hundred times as many eligible voters as Representatives in the late 18th century were.  And, the present First Amendment got there by the “accident” of ratification conflicts over details of the two proposals prior to it.  Furthermore, it was mostly neglected until the burgeoning influence of journalists, professors, and other “wordsmiths” gave it primacy in the twentieth century.

 

Meanwhile, the Constitution and the Founders were never explicit or in agreement upon the jurisdiction of federal courts where the constitutionality of action by the elected branches was concerned.  Chief Justice John Marshall attempted to settle that matter by his decision in Marbury v. Madison, 1803.  But that case was both trivial and moot, until taken seriously as a precedent in generations later.   No act of Congress was declared void by the Supreme Court until the Dred Scott decision in 1857, and that decision was most significant for helping to bring on the Civil War.  During that war and since, judicial invalidation of acts of the other branches became effective.  Only in the twentieth century did they become increasingly common.

 

It has been mainly since 1900 that the preparation of Supreme Court Justices has begun with highly formalized university educations followed by years of equally formal law schooling.  At least as late as FDR’s nomination of Senator Black to the Court, many Justices had backgrounds that included rather ordinary law education and practice and little or no experience as judges.  The Constitution does not require more. 

 

Today, select nominees from a small body of formally trained and experienced legalists, most of them from a few very prominent university programs, are examined at length by numerous Senators.  They are questioned in detail, especially about their views on “progressive issues” and often faced with contentious final hearings prior to Senate voting.  Almost all of that is a post-WWII innovation.

PRAYER ISSUE

A SYMBOLIC ONE

 

This is a slight abridgement of a column of mine, MORNING SUN, 3/28/84.

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

Often in our recent politics liberals have assumed that the founding fathers meant to ban things such as school prayers by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Not since the publication of Walter Bern’s THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, 1976, have such assumptions been possible among persons who are both informed and candid.  The “wall of separation” between church and state and the ban upon prayers in public schools were little more than bits of liberal ideology until the Supreme Court of the United States adopted them, after World War II.

 

The story of how a few people—mainly upper middle class intellectuals working through such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress—influenced our highest courts has been set forth by Frank Sorauf, in THE WALL OF SEPARATION, 1976.  Professor Sorauf applauded the changes, but his account left little room to doubt that they were recent alterations in the meaning of the Constitution or that they were achieved by an activist minority without approval by the broader public.

 

Prior to 1947 the Supreme Court had very little to say regarding separation of church and state, and even in1947 what it did do was tolerate minor and indirect government involvement in religion.  The Supreme Court’s ban on prayers in public schools dates from 1962.

 

The school prayer issue is a symbolic one.  It is part of the post-World War II division of this nation over basic values.  Under Chief Justice Earl Warren the Supreme Court adopted many of the revolutionary values of the 1960s.  The subsequent Burger Court softened the trend re Christmas scenes on public property, making some return to continuity with the past.

 

The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law…”  That wording was consciously chosen by the First Congress as a means of permitting variations of religious policy among the states, some of which still had state churches.  Only through very broad interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment, added in 1868, did it become possible for federal courts to intervene in such matters as school prayers.  Until after the courts were packed with the products of liberal university law schools and pressured by liberal action groups, i.e. the mid-twentieth century, they rarely did intervene in church matters.

 

I am not an advocate of school prayer.  But, I regard as either ignorant or dishonest and anti-democratic the claims of those who assert that the Constitution, the founding fathers, or the American tradition require a banning of all such practices from the public schools.

 

Intolerance of religion is incompatible with democracy, as are intolerant religions.  Unfortunately, since World War II, we have experienced some upsurge of both.  It is a part of what has led to our present complex election battle