The First Amendment: No longer worth arguing?
The Reason Rally for “non-believers” on the National Mall over the weekend was another salvo in the continuing war against America’s Judeo-Christian foundations.
Valley High School in New Kensington, Pennsylvania has just joined the growing list of organizations facing demands to remove symbols of our Judeo-Christian heritage. The monument of the Ten Commandments that was donated to the school district in 1957 has been deemed a violation of the First Amendment by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. Earlier this month, a high school in Cranston, Rhode Island had to remove a non-denominational prayer mural because an atheist student objected, again on constitutional grounds. Last year, a Christian flag had to be removed from a war memorial in King, North Carolina because, once again, the flag was deemed a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
In these and countless other cases, conservatives have argued with leftist judges, the ACLU, and other liberal advocates of “secularism” that the First Amendment only forbids Congress from establishing a state church like the Anglican Church in England, and that it was never intended to banish broader recognition of our religious heritage. Yet, those who share the “faith of our fathers” are losing ground in the public square.
It might be time for conservatives to consider the possibility that we are wasting our time explaining the First Amendment to the left. Given the missionary-like zeal of their attack, it seems unlikely that the left merely misunderstands the First Amendment; it is more likely that they just use it as a smokescreen to cover an all-out assault upon Judeo-Christian cultural norms because those norms pose a barrier to the Left’s political agenda. If that is the case, then conservatives have not only been using tactics that are ineffective, we have been fighting the wrong fight.
To understand the real issue, it is essential to recognize the difference between formal Judeo-Christian teachings and Judeo-Christian cultural norms that have become woven into the fabric of our society. Practicing Jews and Christians, for example, can point to specific religious prohibitions against lying about other people or taking things that do not belong to us, but someone who has never darkened the door of a synagogue or church can believe that lying and stealing are wrong. These norms may have had their origins in formal religion, but they are very much woven into the moral fabric of our culture and are codified in laws against slander, perjury, and theft because they are part of our Judeo-Christian culture.
And it is our Judeo-Christian culture, not just formal religion, that is targeted by the hardcore left. Marxist intellectuals of the Frankfurt School in Germany and other academic centers of liberal thinking realized decades ago that the Judeo-Christian culture was the real barrier to statism. Cultural norms promoting personal responsibility, earning what one gets, and the idea that rights come from a source higher than government all created a climate that was inhospitable to the leftist agenda. The leftist disdain for those “middle class” values has worked its way from the universities into our public schools, the news media, the arts, entertainment, and every aspect of our culture.
In truth, the left has no qualms about public displays of Judeo-Christian symbols as long as those symbols are defiled and not respected. When an artist in 1987 displayed a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of his own urine, conservatives objected to the fact that the work was supported in part with tax dollars through the National Endowment for the Arts. The liberal response was to accuse conservatives of censorship. After all, who were we to impose our definition of art on others or to set limits on the freedom of artistic expression?
Apparently, in the left’s worldview, a religious symbol dipped in urine is protected by the First Amendment, but one not dipped in urine is prohibited by it. We do not yet know if immersion is required or if sprinkling would suffice, but we do know that all art is sacrosanct to the left. Since that incident, the left has defended numerous other examples of “art” that are vulgar attacks on our religious symbols.
As we argue in Waking the Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals at Their Own Game, you cannot argue with liberals, but you can use their own positions to get them to argue with themselves. What if conservatives took the position that the Ten Commandments, prayer murals, and Christian flags were works of art? Who are liberals to say that they are not? Instead of having futile debates about the First Amendment, we could let the left explain their double standard and watch as their real agenda emerges.
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