(Denver Post, June 3) The Founders wouldn’t believe it. The Colorado Court of Appeals says the governor may not proclaim an official day of prayer because of a clause in the state constitution prohibiting that “any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.
This novel interpretation would come as a surprise not only to the governors who have issued such proclamations dating back many years, but also to the authors of that very constitution, who declared in its preamble their “profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.”
They couldn’t have intended the religious preference clause to become a barrier to state action encouraging Coloradans to seek that Supreme Ruler’s favor. Good to know that Gov. John Hickenlooper has directed Attorney General John Suthers to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which should surely overturn it based on logic and precedent.
But wait; did I say “surely”? When it comes to religion and politics, church and state, nothing is sure any more. Also headed for the state Supreme Court is an ACLU challenge to Douglas County parents using their own tax dollars to educate their own children in (horrors) faith-based schools.
Meanwhile at the legislature we’ve seen both political parties consider divorcing the legal definition of marriage from its time-honored theological definition. The rationale for gay civil unions was put this way by Hickenlooper: “We don’t believe we should legislate what happens inside a church or place of worship, but government should treat all people equally.”
Leaving aside the vexed question of how the law recognizes different kinds of couples, look what the governor is saying in that sentence BEFORE the comma. He implies that government’s power over you and me stops only at the church door. This echoes a theme from President Obama, whose speeches always refer to “freedom of worship,” not “freedom of religion.”
What’s the difference? Freedom of religion includes the individual right of conscience in conduct outside of church – exactly what secular theocrats are trampling on with the HHS mandate for Catholic and evangelical institutions to provide drugs for contraception or abortion, in violation of their allegiance to God.
“The Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” you see, is no longer acknowledged as a reality under the dominant liberal consensus. He, or it, is now treated as just an outmoded notion which backward folk are allowed to preach about in their sanctuaries – but to whom they must no longer render homage by public word or deed. That homage is now supposed to be Caesar’s alone.
Where is all this leading? For over a millennium and a half, ever since the Emperor Constantine in 312 A.D., Christians in Europe and eventually America have been accustomed to friendly treatment by civil government. But that is over, over there, and may soon be over with here.
The Church of State, as my Colorado Christian University colleague Kevin Miller calls it in his important book “Freedom Nationally, Virtue Locally,” is setting up as the one and only religious establishment. I won’t say get used to it, because we never should. It must be fought.
But we who honor the God of the Bible had better gird ourselves, for this will get worse before it gets better. We’d better study the persecuted church, thriving in China and Africa; our own time may be coming. We must realize, as the Founders knew, that America is not in the Bible. Americans are, however. It holds vast wisdom and warning for us.
As the Constantinian settlement – itself quite unscriptural – passes away, a good place to start would be Jesus’ own rule: “Render to Caesar, render to God.” That balance, the only safe harbor for faith and freedom, was lost in Christendom centuries ago. It is now ours to rebuild.
(Centennial Fellow) Energized by the Tea Party, a conservative comeback ostensibly rolls into Washington this month. But are the results desired truly going to happen?
Conservatives have two well-established, honorable impulses: they want a free country and they want a virtuous country.
Unfortunately, the strategy of numerous conservatives in acting upon these impulses has been failing for decades.
That’s because of this important axiom: when Americans ask their Federal Government to deliver both freedom and virtue, they will ultimately get neither.
The problem is this: a key number of Christian conservatives ask their Federal Government to deliver both freedom and virtue. And Washington’s obliging, persistent installation of coerced, often fake, “virtues” reduces the freedom of all Americans.
Decades ago, Washington started assuming that an essential purpose of the Federal Government is to define and enforce the personal virtues of Americans. So, by now, Washington is deeply committed to ensuring that Americans’ personal behaviors are conformed to “government standards,” like Americans buying the “correct” light bulbs, purchasing compulsory health coverage, and teaching six-year-olds “enlightened” sex education in public schools.
In this way, America is inexorably moving beyond economic socialism to “virtue-socialism.” Not content with just the leveling of economic resources of Americans, Washington relentlessly works to level the virtues of Americans.
Simply stated, the Federal Government is in the “virtue business.” That’s because Article I, Section 11 of the Constitution says, “Congress shall have the power to define and enforce personal virtues to be adhered to by the people.”
Just kidding, of course. That provision of the Constitution doesn’t exist. But you couldn’t prove that by perusing the voluminous laws and regulations conforming citizens’ personal behaviors to Washington’s whims.
Key leaders on the supposedly conservative side, including Christians, have often bought into the assumption that the Federal Government should be in the virtue business. Hence: The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. No Child Left Behind. The latest “family-friendly” Federal policy.
But the results are clear: Federal policies simply entrench the Federal Government’s power and its constituent base. The long-standing strategic mistake is to agree that the Feds should be in the virtue business at all. So, a crucial number of well-meaning conservatives who think they are fighting the good fight are instead fighting the wrong fight.
Rather, there is a truly conservative, Constitution-honoring strategy: “freedom nationally, virtue locally.” Virtue is not generated by Federal Government policy. Virtue percolates effectively bottom-up, by a clarion call to individuals, and by inculcation of values in families, churches, local associations, and communities. Americans own their own virtues—apart from the Federal Government. That’s part and parcel of their religious liberty.
Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Well, contrary to conventional wisdom, in America “Caesar” is not the Federal Government. Caesar is “the people, bound by the Constitution.” And the people, via the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, did not delegate the defining and enforcing of Americans’ personal virtues to the Federal Government.
So, is self-inflicted defeat of their own political goals once again likely for conservatives?
Not if the elected officials substantively endorse the American people’s local discretion and strategically install “freedom nationally, virtue locally.” That’s the only clear path for American greatness.
Perhaps meaningful change will start with the 112th Congress. Godspeed.
Kevin Miller is the author of the just-published Freedom Nationally, Virtue Locally—or Socialism and a Centennial Institute Fellow.© Kevin Miller