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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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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