What Are Our Rights?

On September 28, 2013 a judge struck down a Texas bill restricting abortion. The judge ruled that parts of the law violate the constitutional rights of women, by placing undue strain on doctors performing abortions. Pro-abortion groups praised the decision as giving private decisions back to women and their doctors. Conservative voices vowed to continue the fight to preserve the unborn life. Then, three days later (on Halloween), an appellate court reinstated most of the parts of the law previously struck down. The two sides, based on the same respective criterion, switched their tunes accordingly.

This is just one small skirmish in the ongoing civic conflict over abortion’s place in American culture, a battle allegedly over fundamental constitutional rights. Regardless of the issues in this bill about health standards, the effect will be to permit or shut down abortion clinics that cannot or refuse to comply. It comes down to whether abortion is advanced or hindered, bringing us to the basic debate over the procedure itself. Those who support abortion argue that women have the right to decide over their own bodies, and thereby choose whether to keep a pregnancy or terminate the fetus before or during birth. Those who are against abortion argue that the fetus in the womb has the right to be protected, that ending the pregnancy is simply murdering an unborn child.

Both argue they have constitutional grounds, but technically that’s not the issue. The United States Constitution was not originally written, nor has it been subsequently amended yet, to describe what the rights are in the case of abortion. It is highly arguable that the Founders, most of them religious, would not be on abortion’s side; but such conjecture, even if true, is not binding upon the current population. For now, the Constitution is not the authority on abortion. Rather it is state law and Supreme Court rulings (as yet the latter has only allowed abortion, not defined it as constitutional or not).

With such ambiguity, it would help to go back to the, not legally binding, yet unspoken father of all our liberties, namely the Declaration of Independence. In Jefferson’s words, it is self-evident “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Immediately, the anti-abortion crowd would think ‘Aha! See we’re right!’ and point out God’s creatorship, scriptures that describe life in the womb, and the obvious glaring right to, well, Life. Yet, the problem is that the other two rights, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness, are equally invoked by the pro-abortion group, since they say abortions are a liberty that is part of making them happy (and you would be ‘anti-woman’ to say otherwise).

What is self-evident, here, is that contrary to the Founders’ rather simple and clear vision of what things are universally considered agreeable and essential, humanity has reached an age (or perhaps has re-entered an age) where things like Life and Liberty cannot be simultaneously sustained, or at least without being revised. Protecting the life of the unborn child means sacrificing the full ‘liberty’ of the mother to end the pregnancy, and protecting her right to do so sacrifices the unborn child. I ignore the abortion advocates’ sophistry that they are not violating life, claiming the fetus isn’t human— every fetus, if un-aborted, will become a human, and if a fetus that the mother wanted to keep terminates before delivery, it is considered a tragic loss (this is why in most cases criminals can be prosecuted for double homicide). There is no way around it: in the case of abortion, if we want to advance both Life and Liberty, we must redefine one or the other, or give up on one of them.

Clearly, we have to decide which of these two Rights is more essential in its current form. Notice the unforeseen implications in choosing undiminished Liberty. If abortion is a right of free society, that purely by a woman’s decision, a potential human being can be considered no longer human (or not human enough to have a voice), isn’t that a few steps away from saying we each have the right to decide whether a human remains human? Some argue this is extenuated by the intimate connection between a mother and fetus, but the option to carry the fetus to term and give it up for adoption counters that abortion is the selfish way out, especially when the high demand by infertile couples could benefit from those millions of abortions. When Life does not need to be sacrificed to absolve women of the inconvenience, when Life is amendable in the name of unrestricted Liberty, what bond keeps us from redefining Life, wherever it is, as an inconvenience to be removed? Justifying abortion in the name of Liberty opens up frightening consequences that make Liberty a very terrifying, rather than freeing, privilege.

It is a deeply ingrained flaw of American culture that we assume for ourselves all kinds of actions as our ‘rights’ without recognizing that Liberty is not an unchecked loosening of all restraint. Likewise, the Pursuit of Happiness is not unrestrained in the balance of preserving Life. The murderer certainly has no right, in our eyes, to spend his life outside jail (in some cases even to live) which means a very unhappy future for him. Yet, the same lack of respect for a class of human beings, who get in the way of our convenience, on the part of abortion is colored as an entitlement to which the law, so restrictive of the criminal, should give consent. We have lost the understanding of what our freedoms mean, of how they were fashioned by constructing the right boundaries, not simply let loose from English domain.

And the damage goes beyond whether abortion is constitutional. If, for the healthcare well-being of women, religious founders of companies must violate their personal beliefs, then every religious individual can thus be forcibly subjected to whatever the public decides is for the common good. If, to advance the civil rights of homosexual couples, pastors of churches or religious wedding photographers are forced, by law, to perform their services for weddings they believe are immoral, where will the invasion of public policy into citizens’ faith end? There are priorities to freedom, and when they shift our true rights become endangered. If Americans do not realize what their true liberties are, that having rights necessitates preventing others’ ‘rights’ to injure the former, then we shall surely lose all the unalienable, God-given freedoms our Founders fought to preserve.

In Whom Do We Place Our Trust?

For certain, most Americans today do not trust the federal government. Whether it is the recent scandals revealing widespread abuse of power, the standard gridlock between two parties on important legislation, or the uncomfortably massive bureaucracy, the average citizen has a healthy suspicion that elected politicians do not act in the public’s best interest. This cynicism has dramatically climbed, as the present age is lamentably untrustworthy, and the nation feels out of control.

While our current lack of faith is caused by unprecedented breaches from the Obama administration, a distrust of government has always been part of the American political system. When the Founders proposed the Constitution, many feared that it would re-install tyranny under a domestic title. But the Founders shared those fears: they sought to spread power among many to prevent tyranny and maintain effective government. They believed free society functions best when the people refuse to easily give their consent and power to their leaders, guaranteeing the continuance of their liberty. At its best, the system must expect disappointment and prepare for it.

This distrust of political power, however, should also have its limits. Our alarm at having such a fidelity crisis is a fear that suspicion will become limitless. It is depressing when reality checks our patriotic ideals; despite our ability to elect whomever we chose, the greedy allure of Washington eventually and inevitably turns them into partisan self-seeking power brokers. The Jimmy Stewarts belonged to a different age, and they’re not coming back. Nevertheless, we hope sometime this disappointment will end, that leaders will rise who reliably enact our ideals and the American dream of lasting freedom is not beyond redemption.

If a certain faith in government cannot be restored, we are subject to greater danger than disillusion. As a republic, it is not feasible for the American people to self-govern directly, at least beyond the issues relevant to our immediate communities. For national and state problems, we must delegate authority to the chosen few, unless we want to lose the benefits of the many wonderful cultures and societies within the United States. We have to trust somebody, but we don’t always have the time to rebuild trust with established politicians, or to build it anew in candidates. This means we always elect with the possibility that the leader will disappoint our aims in some form or another.

That gets us back to the initial question: can we trust those to whom we give power? It is a civilized necessity, beyond the constraints even of our form of government, to reach the point of trusting another person to lead. If we never believe in someone, we leave ourselves open to following anyone. Unchecked skepticism leads to gullibility, because people must have someone to believe in; we refuse to remain in the anarchic terror of unbelief.

In such an unstable environment, it is obvious why many Americans still cling firmly to their belief in God. When many popular movements regard religion as oppressive, why do so many Americans still believe in a God they cannot see or hear? Perhaps the better question to ask is why they continue to believe in a God who loves them enough to die for them. Regardless of whether deity exists, such promises are more than what any legislative or executive official has given Americans to believe, faithful or not. Lincoln comes close, but his legacy cannot promise resurrection or eternal providence.

Some consider the slogan “In God We Trust” written upon our money and monuments to be a bygone phrase, the continuing existence of a violation to the institutionalized divide between official business and personal faith. One should likewise consider the benefit in having faith that, above the mortal squabbles which can only give us doubt, a supreme benevolence guards our nation from injustice and seeks the happiness of her citizens. We shall believe, so is it not better to trust a benign Creator and Savior, for the nation’s ultimate fate, than to trust in politicians who have and who will lead us astray?

Christian theology won’t solve the debt crisis or navigate the balance between national security and individual freedom, but it gives Americans a hope that bolsters their ability to let politics naturally unfold, without fatally mistrusting their temporary leaders. The Founding Fathers were at least deists, because they could only reconcile the rights of men if there was a sovereign God ruling the world, and could only hope for the success of federalism if people remembered the fallibility of their leaders. Jesus gives peace that passes understanding; human leaders are often tone deaf beyond patience. Americans would do well to trust in God as their sustaining liberty, and trust the government only as their conditional.

Christians and the US Constitution

I do not know what the United States of America was supposed to be on its founding. Sure, there was a lot of Christian and sort-of-Christian influence on the founding institutions of our country. As for whether it was supposed to be a Christian country, we have to come to grips with what it is before we can move on to what it should be. My on-the-workbench-in-the-garage opinion is that America would need to have a monarchy before it could be an officially “Christian” country. My monarchist fancies aside, I think the country really needs a new constitution before we will have a decent answer to questions of church and state and the degree of their separation. Continue reading Christians and the US Constitution