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    Change.gov: Infringements on Liberty

    November 10, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    flacius1551 said…

    OK–I will now out myself as a college professor: what O. is proposing is more or less simply a formalization of a situation that I see as relatively common among students these days. That is: the only kind of paid work they can get is in in the various lowpaid service sector–retail, fastfood, waitressing, etc.–so they can’t use their work experiences as effective resume fodder. Particularly if they are majoring in something without a direct application {e.g., most liberal arts majors, but also some of the social and natural sciences, esp. psychology or sociology} they have to find a way to get some sort of para-professional experience if they hope to find an entry-level job. I welcome that someone in a leadership position in public life {as opposed to private life} is willing to say that service work with people in an area of interest to you is important. Hopefully this will lead to broader recognition of this situation and benefits for those who participate.

    The above is a comment left on my previous post, Change.gov: The New Slavery. {Surely, I will run out of clever titles during this presidential term. Good thing recycling is en vogue.} I told the commenter that I’d be replying in a full post. Part of this is because my reply would be so long that it would be like a post in length. But another part is because this is representative of a trend I see in the culture. In fact, Martyrologist said something similar in his comment:

    As far as the required, mandatory service in the schools, I honestly don’t see a problem with it. To have community service be a part of the public school curriculum/program is OK with me…High schools in California seem to geared toward one thing right now: exit exams. The quality of education offered has dwindled…And these younger generations are lazier, more apathetic; they could use some hands on experience. Private schools tend to have some sort of community service/ministry credit requirement already. I know in my public high school we had a community service requirement in one of our senior classes {can’t recall if it was government or something like that}; if we didn’t complete it, we didn’t pass and didn’t graduate.

    Before going any further, I would like to note that Change.gov does not say that this would be for public school students only. You can see my full comment here.

    There are two main issues underlying America Serves. One is lawlessness. The other is liberty {or the lack thereof}. On the side of the citizen, there is a third issue, which I will cover at the end.

    Lawlessness

    Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
    I John 3:4

    As a disclaimer, I will say that the lawlessness of our time isn’t something that begins with this election. I mentioned lawlessness back when I wrote a bit about Bush’s No Child Left Behind during Obamarama 2008. What I said then is still true:

    The Constitution makes no room for the President to be involved in the education of individual children. The Founders would be appalled. We need a President who recognizes God’s design for society–a President who begins not by referring to “our children,” as if children were community property, but by referring to “your children” and “my children,” children who belong to a family.

    I also mentioned this when I discussed why our family doesn’t charter school. Back then I wrote:

    The 10th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America says this:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

    There is no portion of the Constitution that grants the federal government any say in how the nation’s children are to be educated. This means that the No Child Left Behind law is patently unconstitutional.

    Our government is breaking its own laws while quoting one of the framers in their defense.

    Now, let’s review the 10th amendment again. If a power is not specifically delegated to the federal government, it therefore belongs to the states or to the people. Obviously, I would prefer it belong to the people since governments never run things well, but I would have to admit that the law leaves open for the states to run the show.

    I suppose one would have to read each individual state’s constitution to give a thorough analysis of the situation, which is something I’m not willing to do. All I want to do is point out that all of the burdens placed upon public schools (including public charter schools) by the federal government are illegal.

    All of this is to really say that President Carter’s invention of the Federal Department of Education was an act of lawlessness.

    Lawlessness is the state of being unrestrained by law. Usually, we refer to criminals when we use this word, but in this case it must be applied to the government. Presidents, who swear an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, are breaking it every day. And every time we accept it because we think it sounds reasonable. We can think of a reason why their idea is a good one. However, this truth remains: these are acts of lawlessness. Our Presidents have made a habit of breaking the very laws they swear to defend!

    At the very least, we should be amending our Constitution. Though I think the Constitution to be sufficient for its purpose in this area, this would least bring about the habit of abiding by laws. Respect for law is foundational to the success of any nation. If these laws, these restrictions on government are so wrong for our time, we should still as a culture have enough respect for law to change the laws rather than break them.

    Liberty

    …but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.
    Philemon 1:14

    Two of my commenters can think of a reason why Obama’s ideas are good ones. To be honest, I am not concerned with whether these ideas are good or not. It does not change the fact that they are lawless in nature. It also does not change the fact that they are restrictions on the liberties that we as a nation have always accepted as being given to us not by our government but by our Creator. In other words, the liberties we have are part of being fully human. To have the government infringe on these rights is to have the government to make an attack on humanity in a small way.

    We cannot read the history of other failed nations without realizing that small attacks on humanity lead to larger ones later on.

    I {or rather, Noah Webster} defined civil liberty in my first post. Civil liberty means that I am free from the arbitrary will of another. I think serving others is great, but I cannot go next door and force by neighbor to go serve with me a couple hours a week. The merits of my idea never justify an assault on my neighbor’s liberty.

    To take an extreme example of slavery, let’s use the Old South. What if the masters had used these slaves for good? What if they had purchased a slave to carry out only good deeds? What if they sent their slaves hither and thither serving the poor, helping others, and so on? Does this justify allowing slaves to remain slaves? What if the slaves’ situation was somehow improved? Perhaps it gave them a better education than they would pursue on their own. Maybe they developed character and virtue as they served others. Does this justify treating them as subhuman by infringing on their right as human beings to enjoy freedom and liberty?

    Absolutely not! And I don’t think many people would argue that it does.

    My point extends to this situation. A good idea never, never justifies enslaving another person.

    The scariest part of the America Serves proposition is the little word “require.” This means that the participants have no choice. So we here in America might just end up where we have the right to kill our unborn children, but not the right to determine how we spend some of our spare time? But not the right as a parent to choose how and when and whom my children will serve?

    Folks love to call America a free country. Dear readers, if your President can require you or your children or your children’s children to do community service, you are anything but free.

    Surrendering Liberty

    Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. {But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.}…You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
    I Corinthians 7:21 & 23

    I firmly believe one of the reasons Obama feels emboldened to suggest a limitation on freedom is not just the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. It is the people themselves. We have been willing to give up liberties over the last three or four decades for the sake of feeling safe or being cared for or getting a check in the mail or whatnot. We compromise. We do not value our liberty as we should; we do not realize that liberty is part of what it means to be human, that a lack of liberty is oppression.

    We allow DUI checkpoints, where cars are stopped and searched by police without warrants or probable cause because we think they keep our streets safer. Does it really matter if all citizens are treated as criminals? It is only for a few minutes.

    We allow President Bush to tell every school what they shall teach and how they shall measure success because we think this will give our children a head start in the world. Does it really matter that such an action is a violation of his own vows?

    I could go on, but I am sure that we all could think of instances where we have given up a liberty {usually thoughtlessly} because there was some reason at the time that made it seem like a good idea.

    President Ronald Reagan was speaking wisdom when he said:

    Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.

    _____________________
    Links:

    Federalist Paper #41: General View of the Powers Conferred by the Constitution
    Federalist Paper #69: The Real Character of the Executive

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    10 Comments

  • Reply Rahime November 12, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Yes, and long before President G W Bush as well. Our presidents and legislatures have long been passing federal laws and rules through those improper means.

    Audacity probably wasn’t written by Obama, but I thought it was likely to have more of an impression of what he believes than the speeches I’ve heard him give. So far, at about 40% through, there’s not much new.

  • Reply Brandy November 12, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Rachel, Good quote! I think the reason we are tempted to use “comfort” and “safety” interchangeably is because America has stepped it up a notch. Originally, there was a fear of being unsafe. Now, there is a fear of being uncomfortable.

    Rahime, I have been thinking about getting a copy of The Audacity of Hope, even though I doubt the man wrote it himself. I’m sure it still gives an impression of what he believes.

    Part of what got us into this mess was that we as a people allowed Republican presidents to violate the Constitution because it suited us. So, for instance, when George W. Bush signed an executive order cutting off all foreign aid for abortions, we applauded! He was saving lives! And yet Scripture tells us that all lawlessness is sin. Had he gone through the proper, lawful channels (and I think the Republicans still had a majority at the time), he could have set an example of accomplishing a moral good through a moral (because it is lawful) means. Instead, we allowed disrepect for the rule of law in the name of goodness. Now, Obama defines good differently than we do, and it offends us that he violates the Constitution. But frankly this has been a long time coming.

  • Reply Brandy November 12, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    KathyJo, I appreciate your comment, and also your follow-up thoughts that you posted on your blog. I had debated over whether or not to really go into the education system today. Public schools are really socialist training grounds when you think about it, and I don’t say this because of the curriculum. I say this because they teach children to be dependent on the government by their very nature. The buildings are owned by the government, the teachers and administrators are paid by the government. The school feeds them lunch and sometimes breakfast, often free of charge or reduced rate (normalizing welfare for even those of the tenderest ages). The children play on sports teams funded by the government (but perhaps subsidized by their parents). The government gives them music lessons if they are lucky. The list goes on. The children grow up surrounded by government. In this way, we cannot be surprised when they vote in a president who runs like he is running for Student Body President and promises them he’ll give them pizza parties every Friday.

    This is why homeschooling doesn’t just offer children the chance for a superior education, but is also an expression of liberty.

  • Reply Rahime November 12, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Wow, quite the discussion going on here.

    I’m in the process of reading The Audacity of Hope. Though I’ve really just started it, so far the most amusing thing has been his pointing out the Republican Party’s blatant disregard for Constitutional principles (referring to wiretapping w/o warrants). I don’t dispute the fact, but it seems ironic as most of Mr. Obama’s planned policies are just as patently unconstitutional (unless, of course, he hopes to pass a lot of amendments).

  • Reply Rachel R. November 11, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    Benjamin Franklin said that those who would give up their liberty to obtain “a little temporary safety” deserve neither liberty nor safety. I agree. I also think that “comfort” or anything else along those lines could as easily be substituted for “safety” in this line of thought.

  • Reply KathyJo November 11, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    flacius1551 said, “I personally think it’s problematic to claim that no laws can be made that were not anticipated by a group of (admittedly smart) people living over 200 years ago. Societies grow and change, and the social contract has to grow with them.”

    One would think that in order to maintain a “social contract” with one’s government, one’s government would first have to uphold the agreement as made. Yes, as made more than two hundred years ago. Our Constitution left maximum freedom in the hands of the people and the individual states. In trying to expand the federal role, they are breaking the contract formed.

    Our Founding Fathers were indeed wise men, so wise that they foresaw the problem you mentioned, that new issues would arise that might require amendments to the contract they proposed to the American people. And the very first Amendments they made to the Constitution, our contract, were to enumerate certain rights of the citizens of this country, and to limit the power of the federal government by stating quite clearly that the federal government had only those powers granted to it in the Constitution, leaving everything else to the people and the states.

    They made these amendments hard to attain. Why? So that the federal government would not increase in size by the whim of the current people in political power.

    Federal involvement in education has been increasing over the years, and education has been in a decline. Still, some people refuse to see the correlation between the two, much less acknowledge that the one may cause the other.

    Perhaps we should focus on removing the federal government’s unlawful presence in education. When the states and local communities are again in complete control of education, perhaps then we will begin to see real hope and change for the better.

  • Reply Brandy November 11, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Flacius,

    I agree that laws can and sometimes need to be changed. I don’t think that the laws restricting the executive branch of the government from legislating should be changed, but if we want to change the entire form of our government (checks and balances, etc.) then at the very least we should have enough respect for our own laws to change the law rather than break it. This is why I mentioned respecting the Constitution enough to amend it. When I say that this is, in essence, the president-elect planning to do a lawless act, I say this because the Constitution as such doesn’t allow for such an action. If he intends to keep his oath of office, then he will need to have the Constitution amended in order to have his action be lawful.

    On the practical side, I agree with you that there are certain character qualities lacking in the youth of our country. And I fully admit that I haven’t spent enough time thinking about solutions to set forth an alternative and comprehensive plan, even for my own geographic locality. However, I don’t think we should see this as needing to choose between A or B. My writing here often tries to focus on option C. In this situation, A could be “The President requires children and young adults to work for the government without pay a certain number of hours per week, essentially instituting part time slavery in our country.” B could be “We continue with the status quo.” Surely there is an option C. What would be wonderful is if we could come up with an option C, or better yet, many option C’s that work best for each city or town and are perfectly Constitutional, therefore eliminating the need to change the executive into a legislator for the purpose of revitalizing our youth.

  • Reply Brandy November 11, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Rebecca, Yes I heard that, too, but not until after I had written and published this post. I’m not sure why this happened. One article I read said that he didn’t actually have the authority to launch a webiste with a URL ending in .gov, but I thought that the rest of the site was still up so that didn’t make sense to me…

  • Reply flacius1551 November 11, 2008 at 1:52 am

    Well, all social contract theories from Hobbes to Rousseau on down are based on the idea that humans have to give up some freedoms in order to live in civil society. Also, most of these theorists would say that a state’s requirement is not arbitrary if it is the result of the social contract and it is applied equally to all of the members of the contract. This is why, although the execution of an innocent man may be unjust from a moral standpoint, it is not unjust from the standpoint of contract theory, since the victim, in agreeing to live within the society and be subject to the laws, is not being subjected to any penalty that cannot be applied to any other subscriber to the contract. In thsi sense, freedom is not the freedom from arbitrary power but rather the ability to live under the laws one has made. The framers of the Constitution were aware of these theories and this is why Locke and Rousseau in particular echo through the words of the Constitution. The institution that results from the social contract has to be able to compel people to do some things, or (from the viewpoint of these theorists) it is not living up to its responsibility to protect their freedoms.

    I personally think it’s problematic to claim that no laws can be made that were not anticipated by a group of (admittedly smart) people living over 200 years ago. Societies grow and change, and the social contract has to grow with them. This is not lawlessness, but part of how it is that we reconsent to and remake the social contract set up by our forebears. Of course, some contract theorists (Locke, e.g.) do think that you are able to leave the contract and rejoin the state of nature.

    From a non-theoretical point of view: I frankly think that students need to be trained to service like everyone else and a lot of parents simply are not doing their jobs in this regard. It can be questioned whether a school or university can accomplish such a monumental task–but not whether it is necessary, I think, either for society or (perhaps much more troublingly) for capitalism. Employers also criticize universities for not teaching their students to go the extra mile for success.

  • Reply rebecca November 11, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Interestingly, I understand that change.gov was “scrubbed” over the weekend. While I haven’t checked out the site, I understand it now consists of a rather generic statement of what the Obama administration seeks to accomplish. The update seems to have been made sometime on Sunday and I don’t know if it has been changed again since that time.

    Ha ha. My word verification is combaku…. like Come Back, You.

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