Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do
PART II: WHY LAWS AGAINST CONSENSUAL
ACTIVITIES ARE NOT A GOOD IDEA
|HENRY STEELE COMMAGER|
- THE UNITED STATES IS the most diverse country on earth. Nowhere else do so many people with differing ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds live side by side in relative peace and harmony. The "melting pot" did not melt us into one, uniform people, but melted away a good portion of the intolerance, prejudice, and the notion that one group or another "shouldn't be here."
- It happened over time. The prejudice of one generation became the toleration of the next generation, which became the fascination of the next generation and the norm of the next.
- Drawn by the concept of a "new world" and, later, "the land of the free," settlers eventually realized that, in order to get the freedom they sought, they would have to give others freedom as well. This realization sometimes came through rational thought, but more often came as a compromise in settling bloody disputes.
- The Europeans who first arrived in America fell into roughly three categories: (1) those seeking religious freedom, (2) those seeking fame and fortune, and (3) criminals. These three elements were at odds, and within each element was discord.
- On the religious front, the Catholics and the Protestants hated each other, and both despised the Jews. Protestants divided along the lines of those who were happy with the Church of England (the Anglicans) and those who wanted major reforms (the Puritans).
- Those seeking fame and fortune vied for land, trading rights, transport routes, reserved parking places, and all the other material goodies entrepreneurs squabble over.
- The criminals were anything from political dissidents and recalcitrant serfs to thieves and murderers. They had little in common except that they had broken England's common law or had offended someone in power.
- The religious, ambitious, and malicious Europeansall hating each other and made up of splinter groups that didn't get alongalso had to contend with the Native Americans (and vice versa). When the Europeans arrived, there were as many as 4,000,000 Native Americans on the land now known as the United States. The natives who were, at first, friendly, or, at worst, had a live-and-let-live attitude toward the immigrants, eventually turned hostile. Spain, starting with Christopher Columbus's shipping natives back to Spain as slaves, had created a policy (by then over a century old and, therefore, a tradition) of enslaving, exploiting, and abusing the natives. The native North Americans would have none of this. Here began the most dramaticand the most tragicfailure of the melting pot. As many differences as the European settlers had among themselves, they had more in common with each other than they did with "the redskins." The Native Americans were never officially included in the melting poteven those who converted to Christianity, learned English, applied for statehood under the system prescribed by the newly formed federal government, and attempted to fit into the white man's ways. (The Native Americans' application for statehood was summarily denied.)
|MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.|
- Within the colonies, changes started when some of the children of the Puritans turned out to be not quite as religious as their parents. Conversely, the children of some of the criminals were more religious than Ma and Pa. In both cases, the older generation shook their heads and moaned, "What's the younger generation coming to?" When the slightly less religious children of the Puritans and the slightly more religious children of the criminals married (in wedding chapels set up by the entrepreneurs), the Puritan parents and the criminal parents discovered they had something in common after all: children who were positively out of their minds! Some children married Native Americans; others married new immigrants. They had children, and the first generation of Americans was born.
- Soon, another group was added: slaves from Africa. They, as the Constitution euphemistically puts it, "migrated" to Americabut much against their will. They weren't even included in the melting pot until after the 1860s, and significant melting did not take place until the 1960s.
- After the Revolutionary War and the formation of "a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," people seeking freedom of all kinds began flocking to America.
- The French, who were our allies in the Revolutionary War, were welcome, but "spoke funny." The Chinese, imported as cheap labor to build the railroads, were despised, abused, but eventually accepted. The Irish, who came to escape the devastation of the potato famine and the tyranny of England, arrived at roughly the same time as the Italians. These two took an instant dislike to one another. It was nearly a century before the animosity dissolved. The Jews came from many countries, primarily Russia and eastern Europe. One pogrom after another forced them to try the religious freedom promised by the Constitution. They did not immediately find it. Strong antisemitism and "restricted" hotels, clubs, restaurants, and neighborhoods caused the sort of ghettoizing the Jews had unfortunately become accustomed to in their native lands. This discrimination would not decrease until after World War II, when Hitler demonstrated to the world the ultimate result of intolerance. Six million concentration camp deaths later, America finally woke up in the late 1940s and began to refer proudly to its "Judeo-Christian" heritage.
- The philosophy that made the melting pot work was a belief both high-mindedly enlightened and street-wise practical: "You allow me my diversity and I'll allow you yours." It's an ongoing processever changing, ever growing, ever looking for the balance between the extremes.
- Defenders of the status quo have always tried to keep their status, well, quo. "The way it is is the way it's meant to be, the way God wants it to be, and if you don't like it here, you can go back where you came from." Recently, for example, we have seen an influx of immigrants from "non-Christian nations" (India, other parts of Asia, and the Middle East), which has struck fear into the hearts of those who feel it their "duty" to protect "traditional American values"their values. That these Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims are turning out to be perfectly good citizens is even more disturbing. ("They must be up to something.")
|BISHOP JOHN SHELBY SPONG|
So, a movement is afoot to declare the United States a "Christian nation." The plan is that, when all naturalized citizens swear allegiance to the flag, they will also swear allegiance to the specific interpretation of Christianity popularized by, among others, St. Patrick Robertson and St. Jerome Falwell. The new immigrants will have to abandon their native religions just as they must abandon allegiance to the country of their birth.
Ruling by religion, however, was tried in this country and it failedmiserably. Here, for example, is an early colonial law:
If any man have a stubborn or rebellious Son, of sufficient understanding and years, viz. fifteen years of age, which will not obey the voice of his Father, or the voice of his Mother, and that when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them; then shall his Father or Mother, being his natural Parents, lay hold on him, and bring him to the Magistrates assembled in Court, and testify unto them, that their Son is Stubborn and Rebellious, and will not obey their voice and chastisement, but lives in sundry notorious Crimes, such a son shall be put to death.
The law then states the specific biblical chapter and verse on which the law was based (Deuteronomy 21:1821).
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.
|HUBERT H. HUMPHREY|
How many of us would be alive today if that law were still on the books? The founding fathers realized ruling by religion wouldn't work, and, wisely, prevented it. The United States opted for a government not dictated by any person's or group's interpretation of any religious text. (More on this in the chapter, "Laws against Consensual Activities Violate the Separation of Church and State, Threatening the Freedom of and from Religion.")
Diversity, not conformity, is America's true strength.
In nature, purebreds excel in certain characteristics, but at the expense of others: they may be beautiful, but stupid; gentle, but sickly; ferocious, but unpredictable. It's the crossbreeds that have the strength, flexibility, and multileveled instincts not only to survive, but to thrive in a broad range of conditions.
The United States is not just a crossbred; it's a mongrelthe most mongrel nation on earth. It's what gives us our strength, sensitivity, tenacity, flexibility, common sense, and spunk. ("You have spunk, don't you?" Lou Grant asked Mary Richards at their first meeting. Mary nodded proudly. Lou glared: "I hate spunk.")
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR.
Many citizens of the United States have stopped even trying to trace their national roots. When asked, "What nationality are you?" they respond, "American." And rightly so.
I have flowing in my veins Irish, Italian, a little Cherokee, and God knows what-all. I'm an American. The struggle between the Irish and the Italians came to an end with me and hundreds of thousands like me. How could the Italians hate me? I'm part Italian. How could the Irish hate me? I'm part Irish. How can I side with the settlers? I'm part Native American. How can I side with the Native Americans? I'm mostly settler. I have compassion for many sides. And I am one of millions who have the blood of many nations flowing through our veins: the wealth of many cultures, the wisdom of many generationsand many, many ways to love God.
As Bishop Fulton J. Sheen explained,
Democracy cannot survive where there is such uniformity that everyone wears exactly the same intellectual uniform or point of view. Democracy implies diversity of outlook, a variety of points of view on politics, economics, and world affairs.
Hence the educational ideal is not uniformity but unity, for unity allows diversity of points of view regarding the good means to a good end.
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation," said Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, "It is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."
America is a bold, dynamic, audacious, enthralling, and ongoing experiment. There have been many risks, many embarrassments (Richard Speck, John Hinckley, Jeffrey Dahmer) and many glories (Luther Burbank, HELEN KELLER, Thomas Edison, Liberace).
Where else but in America could we read this news item?
A De Kalb County, Georgia, Superior court ruled that Gary Eugene Duda, 35, could change his first name to "Zippidy." Duda said that he had already been called "Zippidy" by friends for most of his life.
The American experiment has seen its tragedies (the executions of Sacco and Vanzenti; the imprisonment of 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II; the cold war with its nuclear arms race) and its triumphs (Lindbergh's flight to Paris, putting a man on the moon, the Human Genome Project).
The experiment continues.
There are some who want to call the experiment off, who want to roll back America to those happy, carefree, God-fearing pre-Constitutional times. Then, their God would rule. By force of law.
Let's not let them.
Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
|JUSTICE WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS|
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