Culture of Lawlessness

Lawlessness is one of the most defining characteristics of contemporary American culture, if not the most defining characteristic. Therefore, this is a topic deserving our attention.

It is essential that we recognize the prevalence of lawlessness in our society. It is even more important that we identify lawlessness as a major component of our societal essence. That is, the manifestations of lawlessness all around us do not merely represent isolated events, but rather they characterize who we are as a society. We encounter people who perpetually lie but claim that this behavior does not mean they are liars, as if lying is an anomaly for them, a stranger to their real essence, rather than a defining characteristic of their personality. Of course, such a claim does not reflect reality. A pattern of behavior in fact does represent who individuals are. Therefore, the prevalence of lawlessness in contemporary American society, reveals that this characteristic comprises a major ingredient of our nature.

Consider just some of the manifestations of this societal trait.

As Americans consider the topic of law, our Constitution, the basis for our legal system, should come to mind. American lawlessness begins with our Supreme Court, which some time ago declared their freedom to make the Constitution say what they concluded that it should say. This resulted in the detachment of judicial decisions from the law of the land. At that point we traded in law as the basis for our governance, instead opting for the whims of Supreme Court justices. They broke our social contract. Those tasked with upholding our laws themselves became lawless. One obvious example resides in their creation of the law of separation of church and state, a concept never found in the Constitution and never intended by our founders or reflected in our history. They have employed this total fabrication to shape American as they want it rather than according to our law, our Constitution. Though there lawlessness began some time ago, the spirit of lawlessness prevalent in contemporary American society has totally unleashed it as evidenced by the decision of Chief Justice John Roberts regarding ObamaCare.

We observe another high-profile manifestation of lawlessness in President Obama’s disregard for the Constitution. His pronouncement that he has a pen and a phone graphically exhibits his disregard for the Constitution he swore to uphold, displaying lawlessness both in his disregard for our legal system but also his disregard for moral law in breaking his promise to the nation. Those expressions of lawlessness have led to his display many others. The laws of the Constitution or the Bible have little or no place in his approach to the presidency. His pattern of perpetual dishonesty provides but one graphic example.

Our Congress has displayed lawlessness in many ways, perhaps the overarching one residing in their using power for their own purposes instead of the benefit of the American people.

Our embracing of homosexuality as a lifestyle to be celebrated rather than a sin to be condemned represents a flagrant violation of the law of God.

Illegal immigration constitutes a daily occurrence of lawlessness. The most disconcerting manifestation of lawlessness in this regard is not so much with those desiring to enter this country illegally as it is with our administration, which lawlessly refuses to prohibit them. Obviously we have the resources to stop it if we chose. Permitting and even encouraging this lawlessness represents its most flagrant manifestation.

The riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere also comprise a display of lawlessness. The argument that we should understand the rage, that is, that we should permit this lawlessness because of some grievance, likewise comprises a greater representation of lawlessness than the acts themselves.

This brings us to one of the most foundational expressions of lawlessness in our nation. To a great extent we are a nation governed by the media. They determine in large measure what Americans believe and do. They have become accessories to all of the forms of lawlessness described above by failing to expose lawless behavior as being lawless, and in many instances even promoting it as good. The current hostility our media has induced toward law enforcement represents a prime example.

The above instances of lawlessness merely comprise the tip of the iceberg, some of the most flagrant examples. Countless others could be mentioned.

The American adoption of lawlessness as a modus operandi raises numerous concerns such as what the Bible has to say about lawlessness, why lawlessness represents perhaps the most profound evil, and what is behind this current display of lawlessness. I plan to discuss these and other topics related to this issue in future posts.

4 comments on “Culture of Lawlessness
  1. Don Wedel says:

    Very good. Look forward to more.

  2. dougindeap says:

    The Constitution, as all all law, must be interpreted in order to apply it to the facts of various circumstances. If you object to the courts doing that, who or what would you have do it?

    As for the separation of church and state, it is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) according that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions.

    To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). Indeed, he understood the original Constitution–without the First Amendment–to separate religion and government. He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    • Paul Brownback says:

      Dear “DouginDeap,”

      Thank you for your thoughtful response.

      Regarding the courts, my concern and that of many others is not the interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, but the philosophy of interpretation they have adopted. Their decision to adopt a philosophy of interpretation that does not take the Constitution at face value, but rather assigns to them the latitude to make decisions that are self-consciously divergent from its literal meaning should be troublesome to all Americans, removing us from the rule of law to the whims of Supreme Court Justices. The Constitution is the written agreement between the American government and the American people regarding how the country should be run. Their philosophy of interpretation violates that agreement. It would be like the bank telling a customer who had paid on his fixed rate 30 year mortgage for 15 years that since interest rates have gone up substantially across the past 15 years they feel it only fair to raise the rates of his mortgage.

      Regarding separation of church and state, as you know this phrase is not in the Constitution, and its use by Jefferson was for the purpose diametrically opposed to its use today by the courts and others. Jefferson’s intent was to provide assurance that government would not interfere with religion, which is also the essence of the First Amendment. In addition, the constitutions of the 13 colonies ratifying our federal Constitution and many policies and actions of the day graphically display that the founders had no intent for the government to follow the course it is taking today.

      However, I would be okay with the current approach taken by our government if they would apply the same standards to separation of the religion of secular humanism from the state. What has occurred today is not the government divesting itself of involvement with religion but rather the government exchanging the Christian religion for the secular humanist religion.

      If you are committed to separation of church and state, as apparently you are, it would be my hope that you would exercise your zeal in purging the far more prevalent presence of the religion of secular humanism from public schools and state-sponsored universities. I would hope you are equally as zealous regarding purging the promotion of Islam from public schools, a practice currently being sanctioned by our government. Your taking on those causes would go a long way to substantiate the genuineness of your concern about separation of church and state. Apart from that it could appear that you are merely targeting Christianity.

      Warmest regards,

  3. dougindeap says:

    I appreciate your thoughtful response as well.

    Your reply raises questions about how courts interpret positive law, e.g., the Constitution or statutes. That is a large subject about which volumes have been written and debate, philosophical and practical, continues. The current justices of the Supreme Court, moreover, are not all of the same mind about how to go about it. All generally aim for “original intent,” but they have different ideas of what that is and how to discern it.

    In order to resolve cases that involve issues about what the Constitution requires or prohibits with respect to this or that subject, the courts necessarily must decide what it means in pertinent respects, i.e., they must interpret it. Courts (and philosophers) have developed various ideas about how courts should go about this task. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex subject and glossing over the many controversial aspects, courts generally go at it thus: The guiding principle in interpreting a law generally is to determine the intent of the legislature–or, in the case of the Constitution, the intent of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution (which theoretically, in the end, was all of “We the People”). The courts typically look first to the words of a legal provision. If the meaning of the words is plain, the courts generally leave it at that (commonly known as the plain meaning rule). Sometimes, though, (and this is particularly so of broadly worded constitutional provisions) a provision may be vague or ambiguous and a simple literal reading may not reveal, or may otherwise fall short of honoring and implementing, the provision’s intent. In that event, courts may look for other evidence of the intent of the legislature. Generally, that entails reviewing the legislative history of the provision, typically found in the reports and documents of the pertinent legislative proceedings leading to enactment of the provision. Sometimes though, such efforts shed little light, e.g., when the legislative history is spare or silent or vague or ambiguous on a particular point. If review of the text and legislative history does not suffice to resolve the issue, the courts may look further afield for relevant evidence (like the Supreme Court did when it considered the development of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom as informative context in determining the meaning of the First Amendment’s religion clauses). If all of that still leaves the issue unresolved, the courts may step back and assess the function or purpose of the provision in the context of the constitutional or statutory scheme and interpret it to best serve that function or purpose.

    While we and courts speak of ascertaining the “intent” of the founders in the Constitution and First Amendment, actually doing so in any precise sense is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is we are speaking of the intent not of a single person or even a single legislative body, but rather of all who participated in drafting and ratifying the Constitution and later the Amendment. They were, of course, not all of the same mind. Practicality leads us to seek evidence of this collective intent from the text and structure of the Constitution first and foremost and, to the extent necessary or useful, also from those most central to the process who remain most readily accessible to us today, e.g., those in Congress who worked and spoke most on the subject, at least on the record. It is important also to recognize that in some provisions the founders spoke in general, even cryptic terms (as commonly is necessary to achieve political agreement) to establish general principles, well aware that future generations would necessarily determine the full meaning and effect of those principles. In interpreting the Constitution and First Amendment, we strive to honor the “intent” of the founders as best we can discern it, knowing that such intent is in one sense real and in another sense a legal fiction and that we necessarily draw on other aids in that effort, including our understanding of the functions of the Constitution’s and Amendment’s principles in our scheme of government and how they are best applied to serve those functions in the circumstances at hand.

    You posit that the essence of the First Amendment is to assure that the government does not interfere with religion. I think that partially captures the intent. The primary purpose of the First Amendment religion clauses is neither to protect religion nor government from one another, but rather to protect individuals’ religious freedom. The free-exercise clause does this directly by constraining the government from prohibiting individuals from freely exercising their religions. The establishment clause does this indirectly by constraining government from promoting or otherwise taking steps to establish any religion, thus assuring that individuals are free to exercise their religions without fearing the government will favor the religions of others and thus disfavor theirs.

    As secularism refers to the idea of keeping government and religion separate, it is oxymoronic to treat secularism itself as a religion in this context. Doing so would seem to render the very concept of secularism an impossibility—since keeping government and (real) religion separate would itself be deemed a religion in which the government is somehow joined. I’m picturing a dog chasing its tail.

    Moreover, it should not be supposed that the government, by remaining separate from and neutral toward religion in keeping with the Constitution, somehow thereby favors atheism, secular humanism, or some such over theism. There is a difference between the government (1) remaining neutral in matters of religion and leaving individuals free to choose, exercise, and express their religious views without government intrusion and (2) taking sides in matters of religion and promoting one view (whether theism [in one, any, or all its various forms], atheism, or whatever) to the detriment of others. It is one thing for the government to endorse the idea that god(s) exist or, alternatively, endorse the idea that god(s) do not exist; it is quite another for the government to take no position on the matter and respect the right of each individual to freely decide for himself.

    The principle of separation of church and state naturally applies to Islam every bit as much as Christianity.

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