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Summer 1999
David Barton - 06/1999

Responding to Littleton: A Tale of Two Philosophies

Shortly after the nation’s attention was captured by the school shootings in Littleton (and also in Conyers, preceded by those in Paducah, Springfield, Edinboro, Pearl, Leesburg, Jonesboro, and near shootings in Ohio and Wisconsin), the “Juvenile Justice Bill” came to vote in Congress. That bill provided an opportunity to debate how to prevent future occurrences of school violence. The House and Senate pursued very different philosophical approaches to the solution. Interestingly, the two different approaches were set forth long ago by Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop, who declared:

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.

The message of all history is clear: human behavior can be restrained by only two means-either internally, through the influence of God’s Word upon the heart, or externally, through coercion, restraint, and regulation. The Senate primarily chose the latter approach while the House focused on the former.

For example, even though the individuals responsible for the shootings at Littleton had broken eighteen different gun control laws to accomplish their carnage, the Senate believed that perhaps a nineteenth or a twentieth law would have made a difference. Consequently, many Senators pursued additional gun control laws.

The House approach, however, focused not on the external regulations but on providing internal restraints through influence of religion. Individuals on the House side told me, “We got bushwhacked in the Senate, but it will be different in the House. Every time they talk about guns, we’re going to talk about God. Every time they talk about what’s in the hands of kids, we’re going to talk about what’s in their hearts.”

Consequently, a number of House members prepared amendments either to provide opportunities for spiritual solutions for troubled kids or to make it harder for religious principles to be excluded from the lives of students. When the debate finally ended in the House, not all of the amendments had passed, but a number of significant ones did.

Those amendments included:

A measure by Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL) to allow individual States and their political subdivisions to decide for themselves whether or not to post the Ten Commandments. (This measure removes this issue from federal courts and moves the decision closer to the people. Interestingly, it was mischaracterized by many in the media as a bill that would require the posting of the Ten Commandments. It does not; it simply lets each State decide for itself.

An amendment by Rep. Tom Tancredo (co) to permit schools to include “ the saying of a prayer, the reading of scripture, or the performance of religious music, as part of a memorial service that is held on the campus of a public school.” It further permitted that “any memorial that is placed on the campus of a public school” may include “religious symbols, motifs, or sayings.” It also authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to defend any school sued for such a display. (Interestingly, this was the amendment which had been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Wayne Allard (co) and which had passed overwhelmingly, 85-13.)

An amendment by Rep. Jim Demint (SC) to change the structure for payment of attorney fees in religious liberty cases at schools. (Currently, when the ACLU (or a similar group) sues a school because of a student’s religious expression, if the school loses, it must pay not only its own attorney’s fees but the ACLU’s as well. Too often, the fear of having to pay such enormous legal costs causes schools to exclude religious expressions rather than try to defend them in court. This economic extortion against schools would be halted through this amendment.)

An amendment by Rep. Charles Canady (FL) making it harder to distribute obscene materials to minors.

An amendment by Rep. Asa Hutchinson (AR) to establish “moral accountability” programs so that juveniles can make restitution to the victims of their crimes.

An amendment by Rep. Bob Franks (NJ) and Rep. Chip Pickering (MS) to require internet filtering devices in schools and libraries to keep students from accessing pornography.

While these amendments-and several others-are wonderful victories, they are not yet final. Because the House and the Senate versions of the same bill differed so widely, the bill must go to a conference committee to resolve differences. Any new language reached by that committee must be resubmitted to the House and the Senate for final approval- and the bill must then be signed by President Clinton before it can become law.

Clearly, there are many hurdles left, but it is nevertheless encouraging to see such a strong stand by so many leaders in the U.S. House! The work of people of faith over recent years that has sent new, God-fearing leaders to Congress is slowly having its effect!

(As additional confirmation, one Member of the House recently told me that in the last session, the House voted on 93 pro-life measures- more pro-life votes than in any previous Congress! We certainly heard nothing about this in the national news, nor of the fact that so many of the measures passed; nevertheless, progress clearly in being made!)

Executive Orders

Executive Orders originated two centuries ago under President George Washington, and virtually every President since that time has issued Executive Orders. However, never have they become more controversial than under President Clinton.

Executive Orders allow the Executive-the President-to issue policy statements to those who work under him in the Executive Branch. These Orders are much like an internal memo from the CEO of a corporation to his employees.

For example, Presidents Reagan and Bush issued Executive Orders banning the use of taxpayers dollars to pay for abortions, banning homosexuals from military service, and requiring family-impact statements before any policy could be implemented through any agency under the control of the Executive. And President Clinton has issued Executive Orders reversing each of those positions.

Very simply, the Executive Orders of a President are merely the means for him to implement his own personal philosophy throughout his Branch. While such Orders are often controversial, usually they are legitimate-provided they do not contradict any statutory law enacted by the Congress.

However, President Clinton has greatly extended the use of Executive Orders well beyond the legitimate scope of internal policy making. For example, he has used Executive Orders to impose United Nations programs and policies throughout America, resulting in 83 land areas in the United States either being subjected to UN regulatory policies (such as Yellowstone Park) or being declared UN heritage Sites (such as Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia-home of the Liberty Bell and the location where the Declaration and Constitution were signed). Furthermore, through his Executive Order on the American Heritage River Initiative, even privately-owned property has now been placed under federal control.

What can be done to reverse such Executive Orders? Three things, First, Congress can pass a law to reverse an Order, but this is a slow and cumbersome process. The already overpacked schedule of Congress makes it almost impossible for them to address, much less overturn, Executive Orders-especially when the President issues them at a rapid rate. A second means to set aside an Executive Order is simply by a refusal to implement it. The third means is to negotiate an agreement between the White House and Congress to rescind the Order. Interestingly, all three of these means have recently been used. For example, the House recently passed “ The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act.” Introduced by Rep. Don Young (AK), this Act requires public participation and Congressional approval before any UN land designation or restriction may be imposed within the United States.

An example of how to ignore an Executive Order was recently provided by the US Department of Agriculture. President Clinton, in order to award homosexuals a legally elevated and specially protected status, issued an Executive Order which required that “sexual orientation” be added to the list of classes protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Agriculture refused to implement the order and issued a memo which announced that “sexual orientation” would not be included in the USDA’s list of protected classes.

An example of a negotiated end to an Executive Order occurred in the most recent budget agreement. When the fiscal year ended without the appropriations being finished, Congress and the President, rather than shut down the government, negotiated the highly criticized budget agreement opposed by so many conservative Members of Congress. Yet, despite the negatives of that agreement, one positive provision was the reinstatement of the family-impact statement that President Clinton had previously removed by an Executive Order.

A fourth, and less orthodox, attempt to remove a Presidential Executive Order is by a lawsuit. For example, Rep. Helen Chenoweth (ID) had recently filed a lawsuit against the President’s Orders given during the Kosovo “crisis.”

So, although the President continues to issue unprecedented Executive Orders, many commendable efforts are underway to reverse the effect of some of those Orders.

Recent Decisions From Courts That Got It Right

The Second Amendment to the Constitution (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”) has been a focal point of recent debates, and according to critics, the traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment has apparently caused all the violence in American.

Some therefore claim that the Second Amendment is simply wrong and should be ignored.

Others argue that it actually means something different from what it says-that “the right to keep and bear arms” is a right guaranteed to the collective military rather than to individual citizens.

In the recent federal case United States v.Emerson, federal judge Sam Cummings was called on to investigate these issues. Utilizing a practice which is unusual for many in today’s judiciary, Judge Cummings wisely followed the guidance of James Wilson, signer of the Constitution and original Supreme Court Justice, who long ago advised: “The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.” Therefore, rather than relying on the opinions of today’s ivory tower professors, Judge Cummings examined the writings of George Washington, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, Noah Webster, James Madison, and a number of others. He found Patrick Henry’s declaration that “The great object is that every man be armed….[and] that everyone who is able may have a gun,” as well as Samuel Adams’ pronouncement that the Constitution “be never construed to authorize Congress….to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.”

After completing his thorough examination, Judge Cummings issued a strong, unequivocal ruling which upheld the original intent of the Second Amendment!

Another noteworthy decision was rendered by Judge Lacy Thornburg in the recent case Richard Suhre v. Haywood County, North Carolina. At issue was the display of the Ten Commandments in a sculpture in a county courtroom-and that display was no mere picture hanging on the wall!

According to Justice Thornburg, “The display, including the outer columns, is 22 feet wide and 18 feet high”! Even though it was “visible from any seat in the courtroom or jury box,” Judge Thornburg nevertheless upheld the display, explaining, “The display was not erected and is not maintained by any religious organization. No religious faith, denomination, or organization is affiliated with or identified as a sponsor of the display. No statute or ordinance mandates its placement; no duplication or dissemination of its contents is suggested by any governmental body.”

His ruling reflected the Founder’s original intent for the First Amendment: that the government not coerce any religious activity upon its citizens. Since the display had involved no government coercion, it was therefore permissible.

Additionally, in what has also become a rare position for many in the judiciary, Judge Thornburg stood up for the community at large, noting that the attempt by Richard Suhre to remove the Commandments “results more from his own intolerance of the rights of others than a desire to protect his own atheistic convictions.”

Most Americans heard nothing of these two remarkable decisions. Yet, had the rulings been just the opposite, they certainly would have heard. Therefore, do not misinterpret silence- or even negative reports-as an accurate reflection of what is actually happening across the country. Even when we rarely hear of these many unreported victories, they do occur, and there continues to be much about which we can rejoice!


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