True Religion And The Welfare State

I recently had a conversation with a friend who I would consider part of the “Christian Left.”  As I’ve mentioned before, those on the Christian Left tend, generally speaking, to reject evangelical assumptions about Scripture, such as inerrancy or perspicuity.  Many, like my friend, are sympathetic to modern textual-critical scholarship and doubt the authenticity and authority of entire books of the Bible, especially those of Paul.  These folks are often referred to as the “red-letter Christians” since, in their view, the loving and tolerant teachings of Jesus trump anything else in Scripture.

One Biblical author who gets almost equal weight, though, is James, and it’s easy to see why.  James has little patience for playing at religion, and a lot to say about social justice.

In the course of dialoging with my friend about federal welfare programs, I quoted from James, perhaps to establish my social justice cred, and also to preemptively rebut potential accusations that I don’t think Christians have a duty to care for the poor.  When I looked up the passage I had in mind, to quote it accurately, I was a little surprised.  James 1:27 reads,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (NRSV)

Now, I always hear about the orphans and widows, but rarely hear about remaining unstained by the world, to the point that I forgot it was even part of the verse.  This prompted a thought.  While I believe it is certainly possible for Christians to support social welfare programs that demand more and more tax revenue and ever increasing government power, what happens when James 1:27a butts heads with James 1:27b?  In other words, what happens when our attempt at following the first half of James’ instruction ultimately forces us to compromise on the second half?  When Christians place the necessary responsibility of caring for widows and orphans in the hands of an increasingly secular entity whose goals are frequently in opposition to other important Christian beliefs, this dilemma is sure to follow.

A perfect example would be the recent HHS mandate, part of Obamacare, that requires Catholic and Evangelical institutions to pay for the contraceptive coverage of their employees or students.  This requirement runs directly counter to one of the most cherished (and assaulted) beliefs of Christianity, the value of the unborn child.  In essence, the government has mandated that Christian employers and academic institutions must financially support a worldly stain on their employees and students, and accept that stain by implication.  Thankfully, many of these institutions are fighting the mandate, but the fate of such legal cases is still far from certain.

If we ask, then, whether Christians ought to capitulate to the modern liberal ideal of the omni-competent state, the answer, I think, should be no. We cannot legitimately appeal to passages like James 1:27 to justify higher taxes and more welfare programs when the organization we have chosen to care for the widows and orphans is increasingly hostile to the other half of “pure and undefiled” religion.

An obvious objection is that we cannot refuse to aid the poor simply because the government is not as Christian as we would like.  But this turns on a false alternative.  We are not forced to choose between a totalizing welfare state or no welfare at all.  James is calling us as individual believers to live out this kind of selfless lifestyle daily and in the flesh.  In short, he is calling us to lives of charity.  Yet it should be obvious that allowing the government to tax you in order to theoretically spend some of that tax money on nameless, faceless people is not equivalent to a selfless life of charity.  James expects you to have more skin in the game.

You can give that same money to a mercy fund at your church, and not only will all of it go to actually helping the poor (since your Elders and Deacons are, or should be, unpaid volunteers), but you can actually put your boots on the ground and help to do the volunteer work yourself.  And it doesn’t have to be a church.  You can give your time and money to any small, volunteer-based group in your community.  The main point is that James is calling every Christian to personally engage in the work of charity, not to indirectly participate in the abstract idea of charity.  (I should add, this is especially true of those who fall into a low enough tax bracket that they do not end up paying any taxes, while eagerly voting to raise taxes on other, wealthier people).

Instead, I would argue that putting more money back in the hands of individuals enables them to do what James is calling them to do, without the potential excuse that paying taxes relieves them of responsibility.  Moreover, it takes that same money out of the hands of federal bureaucrats, who have a record of wasteful spending and mismanagement that helps no one, least of all the poor.

If we really want to live out the calling of James 1:27, we should work to rein in an out of control government and put the responsibility of helping the poor, widows and orphans back in the hands of our local churches and other community groups.

The flip side of that coin is that we must be willing to actually shoulder that responsibility.

Are we?

America! Exceptional! For Goodness’ Sake!

As I went through public school, I heard all about America the melting pot, the New World refuge for victims of persecution or economic hardship, the “city on a hill” of democracy. In church I heard all about how our Christian founding fathers wanted a nation where they could freely worship God and do what was right. In both I heard about America’s founding principles regarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The common theme that I heard in school and in church was the exceptionality of America: in the history of the world, there has never been a nation state quite like America.

America is exceptional in that people could be proudly Arab, Basque, Chinese, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, German, Haitian, or any ethnicity and yet be American. For instance, if you want to go to China and be Chinese, you have to be Chinese to be accepted as Chinese; if you want to go to Kenya and be Kenyan, you have to be able to name your tribe. In America we have ethnic enclaves flying foreign flags and all are proudly American. Broadly stated, one of the distinguishing features in America’s national narrative is that everyone is originally from somewhere else and somehow they all live together peacefully.

While I am not acquainted with the current state of political discourse in this election season, I believe that there is thunderous debate regarding the exceptionality of America as a nation. On the Republican side of things, it seems that the debate fights a lot over just how Christian America is or is supposed to be. I recently saw this video posted by Joe Carter over at First Things, and I got to thinking about the exceptionalities of the United States of America, and I want to posit a historical counterexample to America’s exceptionality.

In the video referenced above, a speaker highlights America’s founding principles and holds adherence to those as the thing that makes Americans truly American. Another nation founded upon certain governing principles was the Soviet Union—equal distribution of wealth, jobs, food, and worldwide socialist revolution for all. In the founding of the Soviet Union, there was a revolutionary vanguard of people who had a vision of a socialist future. They pushed the whole nation to be where they wanted it to be, and the Soviet Union was born. The Bolsheviks pushed class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat into the national narratives of the Soviet Union’s constituent states. Perhaps their failure came in their attempts to extend the national narrative to other nation states; whatever the case, many nations have been unique in the history of the world, but they fail when they conflate national narrative with foreign policy objectives.

America has a unique national story, but it is not the world’s story. It is America’s story. For all of America’s exceptional qualities, those are true of America, for America. For American Christians, we have to understand when we are being good Americans and when we are being good Christians; we need to not be bad Americans while trying to be good Christians, and vice versa. We as American Christians have to be able to shift gears when we transition between politics and religion. While the American government has many tools to influence the world, the American government is not our tool to influence the world. America is indeed exceptional; America is indeed an example to the world; America is indeed a force for good. That said, America needs to be good for its own sake, for the sake of goodness and for the sake of the country.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

What Decided Perry v. Schwarzenegger

Everyone’s talking about the wrong thing.  The Prop 8 trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger recently concluded in a flurry of punditry that had little if anything to do with the case.  While most media personalities spent their time aimlessly speculating or just provoking controversy, anyone who wants to understand why and how Prop 8 was overturned should read Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision.  Walker writes with such clarity and elegance that anyone seeking the details and conclusions of the trial can easily gain a working understanding of the issues involved.  And if our country is going to address this complex legal issue, more people need to do so.

Perry v. Schwarzenegger rests on three plaintiff claims, all of which hinge on the Fourteenth Amendment.  The prosecution charged that by amending the state constitution to restrict marriage to opposite sex couples, Proposition 8 violated the due process clause, the equal protection clause, and qualified homosexuals for heightened scrutiny, elevating their status as a persecuted minority and requiring the justice system to intervene.  The defense had to address these charges and, as Judge Walker ruled (and I can verify, having been present for part of the trial), did a pathetic job.  To be fair, proving that Prop 8 wasn’t religiously motivated is probably impossible.

The three charges rest on each other.  First, the prosecution had to prove that homosexuals had been singled out for persecution on non-secular grounds.  Thanks to the literature, websites, and mass emails disseminated by groups such as Protect Marriage, NARTH, and 1man1woman, this was easy to prove and impossible for the defense to refute.  Most information these groups spread during the 2008 campaign for Proposition 8 linked gays (discreetly at best, overtly at worst) with pedophilia.  Never mind that pedophilia, by definition, is adults preying upon children who have yet to develop a sexual identity, and therefore the sexual orientation of the adult is irrelevant to the situation.  Ironically for the proponents of Prop 8 who were willing to say whatever it took to convince a slim majority of Californians to vote for the proposition, given the hyperbolic nature of the opposition’s arguments, Walker had no other option than to grant that homosexuals qualify for heightened scrutiny as a group singled out for religious or moral, but not secular reasons, for government-sponsored discrimination.

From heightened scrutiny, the other charges naturally follow.  The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. states says

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Because the facts of the case allowed the court to consider homosexuals under heightened scrutiny, Walker found that Prop 8 denied same sex couples equal protection under the law.  Heterosexuals may marry, but Prop 8 denied homosexual couples the right to choose and marry a spouse.  From there, the due process violation logically follows.  As Walker writes

Due process protects individuals against arbitrary governmental intrusion into life, liberty, and property… When legislation burdens the exercise of a right deemed to be fundamental, the government must show that the intrusion withstands strict scrutiny. (109-110)

The defense asserted four main points: Prop 8 maintains California’s current definition of marriage as opposite sex only, it affirms the will of the voters to exclude same sex couples from marriage, it promotes stability in relationships because opposite sex relationships usually produce naturally-conceived children, and it promotes “statistically-optimal” child-rearing households.  As Judge Walker states on p. 10 of the decision

The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without a secular purpose.

Therefore, the defense had to prove that the state had a secular purpose in enforcing Prop 8.  They primarily relied upon the procreative argument, that the state has a vested interest in promoting relationships that naturally produce children.  However that claim crumbled quickly, especially when one of only two witnesses the defense produced (neither of whom was admitted as an expert witness) admitted that though it may be ideal for a child to be reared by a male and female parent, recent research supports the theory that two loving parents, regardless of gender, provide a healthy environment for a child.  From start to finish, the defense paled in comparison to the prosecution in terms of factual information, expert testimony, and consistent argument.

The most interesting part of Walker’s decision for the larger debate over same sex marriage is his argument about marriage’s identity.  Until the early 20th century, most states in the U.S. operated under a legal marital practice known as coverture, which meant that the state viewed a married couple as legally one person, and by default, the husband.  The woman’s legal rights such as property ownership, the ability to enter legal contracts, even the right to retain wages she earned outside the home, were all ceded to the man.  With the abolition of coverture, as well as the introduction of no-fault divorce, Walker argues, marriage became a union of co-equals whose gender was legally irrelevant.  Given that the defense failed to prove the state’s exclusive interest in naturally procreative relationships, Walker concluded that the state need not differentiate between opposite sex and same sex couples when it comes to marriage.  Rather, Walker argues, the state’s interest is in legally fostering the establishment of stable households, regardless of how children are produced or whether children are included in those households at all.  Unless the state requires couples to be able to procreate, there is no reason why it should deny same sex unions when gender roles in opposite sex marriages are indistinct.  Because marriage is a fundamental right (Walker cites cases from Griswold v. Connecticut to Loving v. Virginia to Turner v. Safely), and fundamental rights cannot be subject to a vote, Prop 8’s voter support is not cause enough to maintain it.

This is only just the highlight reel of what is an intensely fascinating case.  I highly suggest that you download the pdf and read it for yourself if you’re interested.  I don’t have space here to cover even half the legal issues it raises, much less the cultural impact of those decisions.  And, as fascinating as this case is, its scope is far too narrow to capture the real constitutional crisis behind same sex marriage.  Article IV of the Constitution contains two clauses, known as the full faith & credit clause and the privileges & immunities clause, both of which make it difficult to know where the states’ constitutional right to define legal and social contracts such as marriage ends and the federal government’s duty to ensure that citizens in each state are afforded the same civil rights and liberties as fellow citizens in other states begins.  That will take another court case, and another trip through the federal system to see what the nine members of the Supreme Court think.

Regardless, this controversy isn’t over.  It really won’t matter what any state or federal judge does until the Supreme Court rules on Article IV.  So settle in for the long haul!  It will be a fascinating, bumpy, constitutional ride.’

Our First Memorial Day

Let us not forget in these days of divided politics those who laid down their lives so that we might live in a nation united.  They died so that an exceptional idea might live.  That exceptional idea is that men are free and equal; that every man should have the freedom of life and liberty to pursue happiness owing nothing to merit.  It is an exceptional idea imperfectly pursued, imperfectly applied, fully agreed upon, nationally recognized as our guide.

In April 1865 this nation ended a war over that idea, a war caused by conflict between that idea and reality.  Our divided house was reconciled.  The path to reconciliation had begun without those who gave their last full measure of devotion so that their friends and neighbors might, once again, live alongside one another in states united.

These fallen soldiers were not forgotten.  Shortly after the war, in the town of Waterloo, New York, the loved ones left behind commemorated the sacrifice of their fallen comrades by decorating their graves with flowers and other ornaments.

Three years after the war, under the proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, May 30, 1868 was set aside as a day to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.  The purpose of this day, Decoration Day, was to decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers in memory of their service and sacrifice.

In 1971, by a declaration of Congress, Decoration Day became Memorial Day, a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.

At the first celebration of Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.   Before they decorated the graves, General James Garfield made a speech to the crowd gathered there.  In this speech he said,

“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

I know of nothing more appropriate on this occasion than to inquire what brought these men here; what high motive led them to condense life into an hour, and to crown that hour by joyfully welcoming death? Let us consider.

Eight years ago this was the most unwarlike nation of the earth. For nearly fifty years no spot in any of these states had been the scene of battle. Thirty millions of people had an army of less than ten thousand men. The faith of our people in the stability and permanence of their institutions was like their faith in the eternal course of nature. Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons; and all sprang from a single source, the old American principle that all owe due submission and obedience to the lawfully expressed will of the majority. This is not one of the doctrines of our political system—it is the system itself. It is our political firmament, in which all other truths are set, as stars in Heaven. It is the encasing air, the breath of the Nation’s life. Against this principle the whole weight of the rebellion was thrown. Its overthrow would have brought such ruin as might follow in the physical universe, if the power of gravitation were destroyed, and

‘Nature’s concord broke,
Among the constellations war were sprung,
Two planets, rushing from aspect malign
Of fiercest opposition, in mid-sky
Should combat, and their jarring spheres confound.’

The Nation was summoned to arms by every high motive which can inspire men. Two centuries of freedom had made its people unfit for despotism. They must save their Government or miserably perish.

As a flash of lightning in a midnight tempest reveals the abysmal horrors of the sea, so did the flash of the first gun disclose the awful abyss into which rebellion was ready to plunge us. In a moment the fire was lighted in twenty million hearts. In a moment we were the most warlike Nation on the earth. In a moment we were not merely a people with an army—we were a people in arms. The Nation was in column—not all at the front, but all in the array.

I love to believe that no heroic sacrifice is ever lost; that the characters of men are molded and inspired by what their fathers have done; that treasured up in American souls are all the unconscious influences of the great deeds of the Anglo-Saxon race, from Agincourt to Bunker Hill. It was such an influence that led a young Greek, two thousand years ago, when musing on the battle of Marathon, to exclaim, ‘the trophies of Miltiades will not let me sleep!’ Could these men be silent in 1861; these, whose ancestors had felt the inspiration of battle on every field where civilization had fought in the last thousand years? Read their answer in this green turf. Each for himself gathered up the cherished purposes of life—its aims and ambitions, its dearest affections—and flung all, with life itself, into the scale of battle.

And now consider this silent assembly of the dead. What does it represent? Nay, rather, what does it not represent? It is an epitome of the war. Here are sheaves reaped in the harvest of death, from every battlefield of Virginia. If each grave had a voice to tell us what its silent tenant last saw and heard on earth, we might stand, with uncovered heads, and hear the whole story of the war. We should hear that one perished when the first great drops of the crimson shower began to fall, when the darkness of that first disaster at Manassas fell like an eclipse on the Nation; that another died of disease while wearily waiting for winter to end; that this one fell on the field, in sight of the spires of Richmond, little dreaming that the flag must be carried through three more years of blood before it should be planted in that citadel of treason; and that one fell when the tide of war had swept us back till the roar of rebel guns shook the dome of yonder Capitol, and re-echoed in the chambers of the Executive Mansion. We should hear mingled voices from the Rappahannock, the Rapidan, the Chickahominy, and the James; solemn voices from the Wilderness, and triumphant shouts from the Shenandoah, from Petersburg, and the Five Forks, mingled with the wild acclaim of victory and the sweet chorus of returning peace. The voices of these dead will forever fill the land like holy benedictions.

What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this, under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!”

In the words of Schuyler Colfax, “The supporters of religion gave their lives for a principle. These martyrs of patriotism gave their lives for an idea.”

May God have mercy on us all; may we remember well those who have gone before us.

*Image from Civil War Buff*

Life, Liberty & the Protection of Happiness

Fifth grade civics was a while ago. So, as a starting point, here’s a refresher of some important wording from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted

Most complaints against government concern ‘liberty’. Conservatives argue that high taxation infringes upon our liberty. Liberals argue that big business or gay marriage bans infringe our liberty. The connection between ‘liberty’ and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is rarely talked about and, if it is, the two are frequently equated.

But what kind of liberty does the pursuit of happiness presuppose? Generally, people advance one of two notions.

The first conflates the ‘pursuit of happiness’ with ‘social liberty’. Our Founding Fathers recognized that ‘happiness’ is found in personal freedoms, it will assert. That’s why the separation of church and state, as well as the right-to-privacy is so important. If coming from the right, the conversation may lead into something like second amendment rights. If on the left, it might turn into claims that the right to pursue happiness supports the legalization of gay marriage or abortion.

The second takes a different emphasis, focusing on government involvement in our fiscal, rather than social, lives. A conservative might include a solemn reminder that government is not our breadwinner, describing the right to ‘pursue happiness’ as a basis for free-market economy. On the other hand, a liberal might take it as a ‘right’ for welfare programs or government subsidized businesses. These, in turn, conflate ‘pursuit of happiness’ with ideas of ‘economic liberty’.

Both discussions of how justice relates to happiness deserve discussion. But both approaches have a fundamental flaw: they assume the Congress of 1776 just decided to be redundant about that whole ‘liberty’ thing.

To be charitable, let’s assume they meant something unique. But what?

George Mason wrote in Virginia’s 1776 “Declaration of Rights”:

All men…have certain inherent rights… namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Mason relates ‘property’ to ‘life and liberty’, and in turn, separates it from ‘happiness’, which is connected to ‘safety’.  His correlation makes sense: emotions within ‘happiness’—contentment, satisfaction, joy—are negated by fear. Security is a prerequisite of happiness; safety gives us the space to ‘pursue happiness’.

In Federalist Paper No. 45, Madison is explicit about this connection:

But if the Union be essential to the security of the people of America against foreign danger…to their security against contentions and wars among the different States…to guard them against those violent and oppressive factions… if, in a word, the Union be essential to the happiness of the people of America

Be wary of projecting personal conceptions of ‘happiness’ onto government. The government does not offer happiness—it doesn’t even pretend to know what happiness is. But tonight we won’t have to worry about foreign enemies breaking down the door or another state’s militia invading our state. Peace balanced with liberty affords us the space to pursue whatever we think will give us happiness, be it social or economic. The right to pursue happiness is not an answer. It gives us space to ask the question.

Arizona Immigration Law – EO Symposium

The recently passed Arizona Immigration law has stirred up great controversy.  Even within our elite contingency of writers at Evangelical Outpost there is controversy about the law.  On the Left, Lindsay Stallones argues that this law is unconstitutional and will inevitably lead to racial profiling.  On the Right, Rachel Motte likewise believes this law a bad idea and encourages us to re-examine our application of social justice programs.  However, several of us are glad to see this law passed and hope it leads to a more serious examination of our immigration policies.

Given the diversity of opinion on the law, we opened up a symposium on the matter for other writers at the EO to weigh in.  Here was the prompt:  SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT THE ARIZONA IMMIGRATION LAW?

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Law Is Uninteresting, Anger Is Shocking

By: Dustin R. Steeve

Most shocking about Arizona’s new immigration law is the outrage and attention coming from politicians and the press.  On its own, the law is fodder for stimulating conversation only if you are a political nerd: “I wonder if this new law will be struck down per Davidowitz v. Hines?  Does Federal preemption apply?  What right does the state have to enforce immigration policy?”  Would that everyone found all such conversations about states rights as sexy and stimulating!  The Arizona immigration law, or S.B. 1070, can be summarized as follows: federal immigration laws will be enforced in the state of Arizona and anyone caught breaking said laws will also be charged with breaking Arizona law.

What this boring law has done is it has brought to light the utter irrationality powering the pro-illegal alien arguments made by the Democrat party and people courting the Hispanic vote.

Illegal immigration is good for nobody.  If the Left thinks conservatives are double minded in their pro-life, pro-just-warfare philosophy, then the Left is certainly double minded on their pro-social justice, pro-illegal immigration positioning.  Illegal immigration hurts immigrants because it exposes them to abusive working conditions and forces them to live in the shadows outside the sight of law and justice.  It hurts honest farmers who cannot compete with dishonest farmers harvesting their lands cheaply via illegal alien workers.  It hurts consumers by artificially driving prices down while simultaneously driving the tax burden up.  It hurts local governments who have to bear the added burden of funding schools, police and fire departments, hospitals, and social programs for people who are not registered tax payers and do not pay in to our system.

The nonsense and hysteria on this issue ought to deflate people who believe in the power of government and government programs to make the world a better place.  Read the rhetoric of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom or any number of politicians on this issue.  You’ll read charges of racism, you’ll hear vile comparison’s to Nazism, you’ll hear full throated calls for boycott of Arizona products and tourism – this during a time of a great recession when jobs are a precious commodity!

And why the hysteria?  Because it makes good political theater.

Think I’m being cynical; I challenge you to read the bill for yourself.  It’s a short 17 pages, but it’s a shocking 17 pages.  Why is it shocking?  It’s shocking because it’s easy to read, it’s easy to understand and will make fools of those who have spoken against this bill hastily out of anger and ignorance.  If you and I can easily understand this bill, why couldn’t our elected officials have taken the time to read and reflect on the bill before remarking against it?  For example, charges of racism in the bill are unfounded; at best one can lamely claim that the bill forces racial profiling because police would have no other way of enforcing the law otherwise.  That’s an argument with more holes than a colander – an argument so bad that even the Daily Kos recognizes its faultiness.  If political discourse in this country is to carry any serious weight and meaning, the kind of rhetoric we have seen against this bill must end.
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It’s Legal! …So Long As I’m Right

By: Robin Dembroff

I am, like many Americans, torn about Arizona’s new immigration law. On the one hand, illegal things should be illegal—a civil society’s laws should have weight behind them. But the objections—such as concerns of racial profiling, or the effect on community trust—are also legitimate. In the end, I come down against Arizona’s decision.

I support expanding legal immigration, but I also think government should enact laws that are necessary for the fundamental protection of American citizens. But that puts two questions at play: What is fundamental protection? and is this law necessary for it?

The American legal system has always worked off the principle that a government should assume a person innocent until proven guilty. Accusations based on assumed guilt have never been considered necessary for our society’s protection.

Here are a couple likely objections to my connecting that principle to Arizona’s law:

1) Look again, Dembroff. The law stipulates that police must have ‘reasonable suspicion’.

True. It does. But what is ‘reasonable’ is not based on hard evidence, or even testimony. If a police officer claims that she ‘reasonably suspected’ someone to be an immigrant, she needs nothing further to demand they reveal identification. People—citizens and immigrants—are not protected from unwarranted police interrogation by concrete limitations. Through the law may claim that police will not ‘assume’ guilt, but have warrant for it, the actual stipulations of the law cannot guarantee that.

Our police are there to protect citizens—and legal immigrants—but not in ways that will make us feel like we need protection from them. And let’s be honest, I know that if I were a recent legal immigrant, I would walk on the other side of the street from an Arizona police officer.

(Also, and ironically, Arizona police are only to detain someone ‘when practicable’, when, let’s be honest, remembering to carry your wallet around, much less immigration papers, is hardly ‘practicable’.)

2) Asking someone for papers isn’t an accusation of guilt.

We need to make up our minds.

To demand immigration papers on grounds of  ‘reasonable suspicion’ is an accusation. But oh, I know! Just get rid of the ‘suspicion’ bit, and it won’t be accusation any longer! Yeah…that sounds like a great idea.

3) Yes, but that is a right afforded only to citizens and legal immigrants.

Sure, if police catch an immigrant, they could say of that immigrant, “We didn’t violate his rights: he’s not a citizen.” But post-facto justification doesn’t fly with me. The first time Arizona police detain a citizen or legal immigrant, the law will have been used in violation of that person’s rights. Police are made to play a kind of ‘Russian roulette’ by having to risk violating rights every time they detain a person based on unofficial, ‘reasonable suspicion’.

Conclusion: Enforcing immigration laws with illegal immigrants, yes. Enforcing immigration laws with those who are ‘reasonably suspected’ of being illegal immigrants, no.

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A Lot of Fuss over Practically Nothing

By: Renee Bolinger

In a word: no, we shouldn’t care much about Arizona’s new law.

It’s a political football, but that’s about it.  The law grants remarkably few new powers to the AZ police, has already been challenged, and is (unfortunately) unlikely to solve the State’s illegal immigration troubles. See for yourself: read full text of the new law (SB1070).
1.  Few New Powers.

  • a) Asking about immigration status

First, several AZ counties already have this authority, as trained deputy enforcers of Federal immigration law under provision 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  SB1070 simply extends this training and power to the rest of the State police forces.

Secondly, police may only ask about immigration status if, during the course of “any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official” a “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” ‘Lawful contact’ in this context means interaction with police caused by something other than curiosity about immigration status, so any immigrant heckling would be a clear violation of this provision.  Can this power be abused? Sure, all power can.  But I’m not convinced it’s much to worry about (see point c, below).

  • b) Probable Cause

Arizona has taken steps to ensure that the probable cause provision will not be abused.  When she signed SB1070, governor Janice Brewer also issued Executive Order 2010-09, creating a training program reasserting the bill’s prohibition of “race, color, or national origin alone” from providing grounds for reasonable suspicion.  Suggested probable causes include inability to produce a license or any form of ID during a traffic stop, illegal overcrowding of a vehicle, high-speed flight from a checkpoint, etc.

  • c) Requiring immigrants to carry paperwork

Arizona’s law only reasserts pre-existing federal law on this point, which already requires non-citizen immigrants to carry documentation at all times. (8 USC 1304(e) and 8 USC 1306(a)).  If you can produce a driver’s license, that’s enough: because AZ only grants licenses to persons with legal immigration status, it is considered proof of legal residence.  You needn’t start toting your passport.

2. Constitutional Challenge
If you want to test the constitutionality of a law, the best thing to do is have someone challenge it.  Tuscon police officer Martin Escobar has done just that, claiming the law will force him to detain “every Hispanic found within the limits of Tuscon”, and thus “seriously impede” the crime fighting functions of the police force, while violating everyone’s civil rights.  (Full text here).

The law has also been challenged on a possible conflict with Federal laws, but these charges are weak. SB1070 explicitly prohibits any interference with Federal law, updating Title 11, Chapter 7, Article 8 of the State’s immigration code to read:

No Official or Agency of this State or a County, City, Town, or other Political Subdivision of this State may adopt a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of Federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.
Furthermore, while the law extends existing federal powers to state agencies, it doesn’t create any new or contradictory ones, so there’s really nothing to challenge.

3.  Ain’t Gonna Fix Nothin’
The law cannot address one of the biggest weak points of US immigration policy: deportation.  Federal law mandates that States turn detained aliens over to federal custody for deportation, but due to facility constraints, many persons thus detained are released again, or deported without any care to keep them from re-entering.  Arizona’s best hope is a clause that allows them to imprison illegal aliens whom they have previously deported, but that will create quite a fiscal burden for their prison system. ‘

Alphabetical Social Justice

“It’s not nice to take people’s L’s”, she told me.  “There’s an L in my name and an L in your name, but lots of poor people out there don’t have L’s like we do.”  She’s only four, but my young friend already has a sharply defined sense and right and wrong.  Much as I’m glad to see her advocate for the less fortunate, I do think this alphabetical approach to social justice is taking things a little too far.

A lot of well-meaning adults make the same mistake in their approach to social justice, and for some of the same reasons.  My preschool-aged  friend thinks it’s unfair that not everyone enjoys the status conveyed by her favorite letter; she has no way of knowing yet that not everyone would benefit from the imposition of that coveted consonant.

Similarly, not all adults are the same.  When social justice involves trying to provide universal human necessities like food, clothing, and shelter to those who have none, this can be good.  Unfortunately, the more popular this catch-phrase becomes, the further it tends to drift from these goals and the more often it serves to disguise an imposed cultural or political agenda.  The world is more complicated than most of us realize.

Take, for example, Bill Clinton’s recent comments on immigration reform:

In a panel discussion with moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News, Clinton said that the United States has become an “older society” and needs newcomers to provide the labor force and pay the taxes necessary to finance the retiring generation…

“You’ve got to have more immigrants. You’ve got to reverse the age ratio,” Clinton told an audience heavy on Washington policy wonks and media types.

Calling the United States an “aging civilization,” Clinton cited nations throughout history in which “older societies become obsessed with security.” Now, in the U.S., he said, that’s driving interest in national defense, Social Security and Medicare.

“America has got to get back in the future business. We’ve got to be a tomorrow country,” Clinton said. “We need more immigrants.”

Clinton’s observations, which will no doubt be applauded by social justice proponents as they protest Arizona’s new immigration policies, are correct: America does need new citizens.  Those who protest the new laws on the grounds that they are socially unjust are also correct.

However, they fail to note the fact that abortions performed in the name of social justice are the reason America needs an influx of new people.  Social justice work is a mixed bag; it doesn’t always lead to real justice.

Even if you leave the pro-life/pro-abortion debate behind – a daunting task, and usually a bad idea – it’s hard to deny that, in this case, correcting one perceived social injustice only leads to another.  It’s not often easy to give people the help they really need, and in an integrated society the help you offer one group may easily bring unintended harm to another group.

That’s why the recent resurgence in the popularity of social justice efforts, while admirable, is also dangerous.  Social justice work is risky because there’s no easy way to know how changing the social and economic status of one group may change it and its surroundings in the long term.  Short term gains may easily lead to long-term harm; a single mother on welfare, for example, will benefit in the short term from the rent assistance she receives.  She will be badly harmed in the long-term, however, if she comes to rely on this assistance instead of on her own abilities and resources.

Social justice work is also dangerous because in their efforts to live out Jesus’ commands, too many people may unintentionally replace them.  Jill Stanek observed before the 2008 election,

Liberals have garnered success with some Christians by diverting their eyes from abortion/homosexuality to “social justice.” This is a relief to Christians who don’t like feeling conflicted about abortion. They can appease their consciences and put abortion on the back burner by becoming righteously indignant about other causes in Jesus’ name. Some of these causes are even valid. Satan is expert at blending truth with lies.

This applies to immigration reform as well as abortion.  There’s no question that many of our Mexican neighbors would benefit from a new life in the United States, and we should do what we can to help them.  Doing what we can, however, should not include giving them a free pass into our country–this approach harms more people than it helps.  The other extreme is also wrong, as Arizona will no doubt discover.  As our own Lindsay has already explained, aggressive enforcement of immigration laws will also harm far more people than it will help.

Popular conceptions of social justice are typically in favor of these and other similar extremes.  Social justice is easily taken too far, despite the good intentions of those who work towards it.  It may also too easily replace other work the church should be doing.  Be wary, then, of supporting a cause because it fits the current stereotype of “social justice” – the issues at stake may be more complicated than you can know. ‘

The Hobgoblin of Little Ideologies

Conservatives just ain’t what they used to be.  From the Big Brother program of unwarranted domestic wiretapping to military spending in Iraq that was so great it wasn’t even reported on the annual budget, the Republican party has been wandering far from its small government roots.  Of course, a party betraying its ideological ideals is as old as the Republic herself, and shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following US politics for more than about five minutes.  But recent legislation from Arizona is about to take that dichotomy to a new level.

Last week, Arizona enacted SB 1070, a law designed to aggressively enforce federal legislation prohibiting undocumented workers.  Section E of the bill states, that a cop “without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”  Subsequent portions make it clear this is not granting permission, but instituting a mandate.

At first glance, this may appear to be a simple case of a state stepping in where the federal government has failed.  After all, the feds have thousands of miles of border to patrol, but Arizona need only concern itself with its own.  And in the wake of horrific violence boiling over the border from Mexico’s drug war, it seems that Arizona’s new immigration law is a reasonable approach to a dire situation.

There are several problems with that perspective, however.  First and foremost, as the circumstances of the law’s drafting dictate, is the practical effect of the law.  This law does nothing to stem the tide of illegal immigrants pouring over the Arizona border each year.  Requiring that law enforcement check documentation on anyone “the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States” necessitates racial profiling, no matter what other clauses or revisions of the law proclaim.  In Arizona, the threat of illegal immigration comes from Mexico, and the only practical application of the mandate is a specific targeting of those who appear to be of Mexican heritage, whether in language or appearance.

Never mind that more than a century of judicial precedent forbids such a targeted audience for scrutiny.  Never mind that it trespasses upon the civil liberties of citizens and non-citizens alike.  The only practical, feasible application of the mandate is that law enforcement is required to demand documentation from those who appear to be from Mexico.  No amount of boilerplate prohibitions on racial profiling or the follow-up patch enacted on Friday will change that.  According to the bill’s sponsor, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the follow-up law’s changes were clarifications “just to take away the silly arguments and the games, the dishonesty that’s been played.”  But they’re not silly arguments, and they should trouble conservatives who value minimalist government intervention in the lives of individual citizens most of all.

Constitutionally, Arizona’s law doesn’t have a judicial leg to stand on.  From Chae Chan Ping v. US (1889) to Lozano v. Hazleton (2007), US courts under conservative and liberal justices alike have consistently ruled that while a state has the right to secure its borders in pursuit of its responsibility to protect the general welfare of its citizens, only the national government can legislate or prosecute instances of immigration.  Though Arizona’s law is redundant by nature (federal law has already defined what constitutes illegal immigration and SB 1070 doesn’t add anything new to that definition), it is clearly inconsistent with the parameters of state power set by the Framers of the Constitution.  A state may not legislate on issues of immigration, no matter what that legislation entails (likewise, a state may not ignore federal immigration legislation, as some ‘sanctuary cities’ pretend they can without consequence).  Though a state’s right to defend itself is consistent with conservative ideology, to do so at the expense of the liberty of citizens and a massive expansion of government power of surveillance certainly is not.

But this law is not about protecting Arizona.  It’s a desperate attempt, groping in the dark against terrors we know we can’t fight alone.  It’s understandable.  When an American citizen is gunned down on his own property by criminals who are in the country illegally, and the federal government is distant and disinterested, it’s hard to blame the state for retaliating on its own terms.  But as robust as this law seems in the face of illegal immigration, it only creates more problems.

Law enforcement’s already daunting job in stemming the tide of violence from Mexico’s drug war as its spills over the border will be made even more difficult by this law.  Faced with this new mandate to investigate immigration status from traffic stops to “local civil ordinances” (anything from complaints about loud noise to an unkempt front lawn), officers will need to choose between focusing on peacekeeping and fulfilling the new law. 

Though proponents argue against its negative effects on fighting crime, the law cripples law enforcement at its most basic level.  Officers will lose their ability to distinguish between perpetrator and victim.  Instead of stopping the human trafficker alone, this law mandates that his victims be given equal treatment.  Considering the US’s weak anti-trafficking laws (you get more jail time for pirating music than forcing a child into prostitution in this country), if the traffickers are clever, which they are, they can exploit that weakness and suffer lighter legal consequences than their victims.

This law will also drastically set back the most effective method of policing in marginalized communities, community policing.  Cops depend on the immigrant community in hot spots to provide evidence to help them catch violent criminals.  With Phoenix’s new status as the kidnapping capital of the country (and approaching the second in the world), community policing has never been more important to Arizonans.  This law makes it impossible for police to maintain the trust they’ve built with non-violent undocumented workers who serve as valuable sources of information.

The law also creates a humanitarian crisis.  Its provisions (which were not amended by Friday’s revisions) are written so broadly that they mandate arrest for anyone found with undocumented workers who are suspected of aiding them.  In practical application, clergy, medical workers, or even good samaritans giving them a ride are subject to criminal investigation, detention, and prosecution. 

This analysis only scratches the surface of the problems with Arizona’s new immigration law.  It would take far more space than is available here to plumb the depths of its inadequacy to prevent violent criminals from fighting the Mexican drug war in the US, or the law’s contribution to the growing racial cleavage in the border states between immigrants from Latin America and those of us whose ancestors immigrated only a couple hundred years earlier. 

In addition to these weaknesses, the law is ineffective in its goal of solving the problem of illegal immigration.  It is but the first step in a legislative attempt spearheaded by the misguided State Senator Pearce to make Arizona so inhospitable to people of Mexican descent that they won’t come to his state.  Next on his agenda is a bill that would require public school teachers to report children of illegal immigrants to the state in order for the state to calculate the cost of their education, then take action to bar them from public education services.  The fact that such attempts in two other states were struck down in recent years doesn’t seem to matter.  He is already in the process of enacting legislation to remove bilingual teachers from ESL classes in schools in Arizona.

What Pearce and his fellow Arizonans who favor such draconian legislation fail to realize is that the only way to ‘solve’ the problem of illegal immigration is to enact policies that help law enforcement crack down on violent criminals in the country illegally, encourage undocumented workers to follow proper channels to achieve legal residency, and put their children on the path to citizenship.  Other states are doing it.  Texas Governor Rick Perry, no friend to namby-pamby liberal amnesty plans, has pursued policies that will allow just those transitions, and Texas has a longer, more porous border than Arizona and has dealt with an incredibly complicated relationship with Mexico since long before Arizona was recognized as a territory.

In short, it takes more than a kneejerk reaction to fix this legitimate problem.  As conservatives often say in response to gun control policy, ‘if you outlaw guns only outlaws will have them.’  Likewise, Arizona’s new law will ensure that the only people in the state illegally are those who do not fear the police, that Arizona’s police will lose even more power to stop them, and that Arizona’s Hispanic population, whether citizens, residents, or undocumented immigrants, will lose another piece of their liberty based on nothing other than their ethnic identity.

Give me your tired, your poor, indeed. ‘

Steeped in Revolution

As far as governments go, America’s is unusually stable. Considering it began in revolution and underwent four years of bloody civil war less than one hundred years later, the stability is incredible.

But now, no matter how we assess its motives or methods, the Tea Party movement has brought the idea of ‘revolution’ back to the forefront of the American consciousness.

That’s not to say that the Tea Party wants a repeat of the Civil War—‘revolution’ is a term that stretches beyond physical, bloody conflict. Another way of thinking about revolution could fall in line with Poland’s Solidarity or Martin Luther King, Jr. marching Washington’s streets. But even when peaceful, revolution is upsetting—it knocks something over in order to replace it.

Successful revolution results in radical change, either in terms of a thing’s function, structure, or ideology. The ‘Tea Party Patriots’ are clear that they are after radical changes in US government.  Some Tea Party groups even tout themselves as being revolutionaries.

How should we think about the Tea Party’s push for radical change—is it warranted and, if so, on what grounds?

Their official website includes a page concerning the “mission statement and core values” of the movement. There, in the section labeled ‘Our Philosophy’, they make some big claims about the justification behind their objectives:

The Tea Party Patriots…hold, as did the founders, that there exists an inherent benefit to our country when private property and prosperity are secured by natural law and the rights of the individual.

For the most part, I don’t have a problem with the Tea Party Patriot’s objectives. Fiscal responsibility in government? Cool. Constitutional adherence? Yes. Free market? Sure.

My main concern with their ‘philosophy’ is that they ground it on loaded, emotionally-charged terms. I have no qualms about the ‘tea party patriots’ platforms. I do think things get sketchy when the ‘patriots’ justify their platforms using phrases like ‘natural law’ and ‘the rights of individuals’.

If ‘Tea Party Patriots’ rely on the ideas behind these phrases to justify their causes, they’re going to run into some sticky points.

In one sense, ‘natural law’ or ‘individual rights’ are ‘Americanese’. We’ve heard them a million times, grew up reading them in schoolbooks and have import all sorts of emotional connotations.

But those phrases aren’t abstract ‘feel-goodisms’, nor were they first used in America’s 18th century foundations: they are technical terminology that trace back to Enlightenment political philosophy.

When John Locke, a key source of Founding Fathers’ political vocabulary, writes about the role of ‘natural law’ in an intentional, governed society, he isn’t prescribing free market capitalism, nor is he proscribing socialism. Natural law in society only allows for a narrow window of ‘individual rights’:

…when he joins in a…particular politic society, and incorporates into any common-wealth…[he] gives up [the power of  doing whatever he thought necessary for self-preservation] to be regulated by laws made by the society… laws of the society in many things confine what liberty he had by the law of nature.

Under Locke’s idea of government, a nation’s laws must have “no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people,” but how the government goes about that end is up to the people and what manner of government they consent to have.

In a society, positive law should secure private property and prosperity by virtue of popular consent to the law. By consenting, individuals transfer many of their rights to the government for the sake of general security.

Still, in Locke’s political thought, even if government makes “great mistakes,” citizens don’t escape the bonds of consent. Only when government has a “long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way” is revolution justified. Revolution–even a peaceful one–is inconvenient, precarious, and costly for the citizens of a revolting society.

If the ‘tea party movement’ were going to use Locke’s terms, as implemented in the Declaration and Constitution, as a source of justification for a radical reformation of government, they need better follow-through. Populism is not enough—unless they can demonstrate both popular consent, a history of abuse, and reason to believe the situation is hopeless, Locke’s philosophy does not justify their cause.

Let’s say that ‘tea partiers’ are able to prove that American government is blatantly ignoring popular consent—which, right now, is a shaky assertion. Even so, the stability of our government through the ups and downs of the last two hundred and fifty years makes me skeptical about their chance of showing that our situation is hopeless.

So long as the discussion remains focused on voter education and government reformation, I’m all ears. But if the Tea Party decides to invite Lockean revolution in for a cuppa, I’ll have to suggest that the partiers should take some brandy and a deep breath. ‘

Census and Race – The Conversation

Why is race on the census form?  Over half of short census is dedicated to the question of race.  The question is not without controversy, but before you can reach a decision about whether race ought to be included on the census, you ought to know the history behind the census and race inquiry.

A decennial census is mandated by Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the United States constitution.  The line directly pertaining to the census reads, “the actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”  In true American form, controversy broke out among the founders as to the meaning of “actual Enumeration.” Were estimates acceptable or was a full count necessary?   People on both sides of the debate agreed that accuracy was needed to avoid oppression.  As Alexander Hamilton stated in The Federalist No. 36, “an actual census or enumeration of the people must furnish the rule, a circumstance which effectively shuts the door to partiality or oppression.”  Hamilton believed an accurate census would shut the door to oppression by generating population figures not subject to political manipulation upon which Congress would base the apportioning of representatives and taxation.  Every citizen’s voice would be proportionally heard and taxation proportionally distributed.

However, with regards to the census, the “race” question plagued this noble goal from the very beginning by revealing hypocrisy within the system.  Take a moment to stop by the 2010 Census website where they have addressed the race question.  The 2010 Census website justifies the race question by citing its use in the very first census of 1790.   It’s an odd, almost eerie justification of presence of “race” on the census today.  In the 1790 census, the race question was used to make sure that slaves received only 3/5ths representation in Congress – the slave voice was disproportionately counted. The full text of Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 reads,

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.  The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Caroline five, and Georgia three.”

With the passage of the 14th amendment, the 3/5ths rule was abolished, yet the race question remained.  Audrey Singer, Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program and a scholar who defends the use of racial inquiry in the census, argued, “State and local data on age, race and ethnicity, household size and composition help communities with projections for school enrollment, housing, transportation and health care… Information from the census is used to prepare for emergency services, research changes and advocate for various causes.”  While I understand how age and household size contribute directly to projections for school enrollment, housing, transportation, and health care, race or ethnicity shouldn’t contribute meaningfully to these projections.  After all, we needn’t make special calculations for those 3/5ths persons walking around.

Critics believe the race inquiry, as its presently done, is confusing at best and politically corrupt at worst. Writing for the Manhattan Institute, Tamara Jacoby writes, “The issue is not just that the census’ approach is politically wrong-headed. Far more troubling is the gulf between the government’s standardized categories and the fluid, rapidly changing racial and ethnic reality of America. By the second generation, between a third and a half of both Hispanics and Asian Americans marry outside their groups. The number of those who prefer the multiracial designation is expected to multiply exponentially in ‘coming decades. It’s hard to see what value it has for sociologists or anyone else to label such people by their ancestors’ country of origin. Yet the Census Bureau goes on trying—and pretending it is able—to capture and codify this changeable, subjective ethnic landscape.”  If Singer is to be believed and census data on race actually provides meaningful data for government program planning, then the data will be inaccurate.  As Jacoby notes,  “Some people’s self-identification is so flexible that it changes from week to week with passing fashions: The number of people self-identifying as American Indian, for example, rose noticeably in the wake of the movie ‘Pocahontas.'”

Writing at the Huffington Post, John Whitehead parallels Jacoby’s remarks with some poignant questions of his own: “How, for example, would President Obama answer the [Census Bureau’s race] question? Is he black or white? What about Tiger Woods? Is he black or [A]sian? And what race are Tiger’s kids?”  Whitehead followed up his questions by tying together the census’ intended purpose, to apportion congressional representation, with the census’ racial inquiries and the regular practice of gerrymandering:

“As if gerrymandering was not already bad enough, will 2010 Census data be used to carve out future congressional districts? Will African-American communities be matched with sitting African-American congressmen? Will nearby Hispanic neighborhoods not currently in the same district be lumped together in hopes of increasing Hispanic representation in Congress? If the information is being used toward drawing district boundaries, then obviously some race-related parameter or objective must be in play when drawing those district lines.”

Separate from the criticisms leveled above, I believe that the government’s present concern with race vis-a-vis the census is dehumanizing and divisive.  In his most famous speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  In his dream, Dr. King longed for a nation where law and justice were colorblind.  If Dr. King’s dream is to be realized and law and justice are to be colorblind, then what use is racial data for makers of our laws?  If law and justice are not colorblind, then they cannot help but favor one race over another and are thus dehumanizing and oppressive to the disfavored race.

Some people are refusing to fill out the census because they are suspicious of the government and of agendas behind the inquiries like the race inquiry.  You should fill out the census. It’s against the law to refuse and you’d be behaving unconstitutionally.  Additionally, over $400 billion federal dollars are at stake – some of that money should rightly go to projects in your neighborhood.  However, the current census reveals biases and mindsets in Washington that deserve re-examination.  Personally, I’m going to fill “American” in the race line because its the most truthful reflection of my ethnic self-identity that I can give.   It’s also sufficient data for government work.  Regarding future use of the race question in government censuses, there does not seem to be a good argument for keeping it.  I’ll admit that while I’ve not read every possible argument for preserving the race question, I’ve noticed that those who defend it’s use in government work typically assert the point without offering evidence for its usefulness and, as mentioned earlier, that point is contentious.   Furthermore, the arguments against the current practice of racial inquiry on the census are compelling enough that the practice ought to be dramatically reformed or ended altogether. ‘