New Weapon in the Culture War: Reviving States’ Rights
Written by Brian Melton Thursday, March 03, 2005
Anyone who is paying attention to the culture wars realizes by now that this country is being pulled simultaneously in opposite directions. There are any number of polarizing issues before the people: abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, social security/welfare, etc. It is notable that these are issues that neither side can compromise upon, and that different areas of the country are handling them differently. Or at least they should be. In reality, we as a nation are neglecting one of the most powerful checks and balances provided by the Founding Fathers, and decisively shutting down the most effective source of pressure relief available to modern America: States’ Rights.
If a poll were to be taken of the average American, it is doubtful that more than one in two hundred could name all ten of the Bill of Rights. It is even more doubtful that one in one hundred could remember the gist of Amendments Nine and Ten. And yet, it is these two neglected items that have the ability to provide answers:
Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
What this simply says is that any power not specifically given to the Federal Congress should be exercised by the people on state and local levels. The reasoning is equally simple: Having just overthrown a powerful, tyrannical government, the Founding Fathers wanted all decisions of questionable moral or personal significance to be left as close to the people as possible.
Over the course of time, the central government, abusing the “elastic” clause, has assumed dominance over all aspects of American life, whether enumerated in the Constitution or not. The resulting mess is predictable, and also very useful to various ideologies and political movements. By using the federal government (whether Congress or the judicial branch), minority movements are able to uniformly impress their will onto majorities with impunity.
Consider, for a moment, the items and issues that must be left to the states if the Constitution were actually followed. Prayer in schools, homosexuality, abortion, pornography, environmental issues, social security and welfare are only a few. It should now be evident why the last thing the political left—or even some on the right—wants is for the American people to realize this. For instance, given the opportunity, the voters of 19 states would ban abortion. For the liberal minority in those states—and their brethren in other states—this is unacceptable (Consider the discussion board found here). For all their talk about defending the right to believe what you will and do what you want, the current Constitutional system allows the left in one state to enforce its views onto conservative majorities in others.
If we were to defend and extend States Rights, not developing anything new, simply enforcing the basic Constitutional rights of states as they originally existed, how would we benefit? As a check and balance, it would allow the different states to pursue matters of the conscience (and pocketbook) according to the will of the people who lived in them, as opposed to a vague moral imperative from the urban population centers in the northeast and on the west coast. If New Jersey wants to preach secular humanism in its schools, why should that affect Tennessee or Georgia? From a practical conservative perspective, this would have the immediate effect of banning abortion in nineteen states, restoring fair laws, and giving the chore of revamping education back to the people most concerned with it. For the liberal, those states preferring that way of life would of course still be able to enforce whatever moral or cultural stance they liked.
This would, of course, result in an uncomfortable atmosphere in many states for people of one or the other persuasion. Hence, another bit of genius built into the Constitution: People can move from state-to-state freely. If you are not allowed to home school your children in one state, you can move to one that protects your right. If you feel like your children are somehow harmed by prayer in school, move to a state that bans it. This would act as a way to for the country to let off steam by providing an exit for unhappy minorities. As it stands, if you have any disagreement with the status quo, all you can do is complain and file lawsuits, because the same standard is universally enforced. If things worked as they should, you could take your family to a more friendly, more sensible pasture somewhere else.
It would also allow Christians and conservatives to revive John Winthrop’s dream of a City on a Hill. I, for one, am fully willing to place conservative Christian moral, political, and economic philosophy into practice against most anything liberal. As time passes, the basic systems will either excel or fall apart. Let the rubber meet the road, and that will settle many disagreements.
It is also worth mentioning that there are some practices that the Founding Fathers did not foresee, or did not adequately deal with. Abortion on demand, for instance, is not a viable moral choice for a state or its people. The Founders would not have given the Constitution the ability to ban abortion, for the simple reason that the practice is so morally self refuting that it did not bear mentioning any more than murder or rape. Still, even now were we to include it (inappropriately) in the category of “optional” and allow some states to retain it while letting others ban it, we would save thousands of lives as a result. It is not the best option, but possibly a step closer to the ultimate goal of a complete ban of abortion on demand.
Will such “radical” ideas come to pass in modern America, actually taking the Constitution at its word? Probably not, but even now, our own shortsightedness can do nothing to obscure the wisdom of the Founders, who actually planned and provided a workable answer to the situation we face today.
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