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A reply to Pat Buchanan
By George F. Smith
"But when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error." -- Lord Macaulay
A scoop from Pat Buchanan: America has an established religion. No, it's not Christianity, to his excruciating frustration -- it's atheism. And not just atheism -- militant atheism.
As a man of God rather than an advocate of liberty, he's seething over the recent court ruling prohibiting Virginia Military Institute officials from leading their cadets in prayer before meals, calling it "atheism's latest triumph." But his precision wavers when stating his case. In his column, "The de-Christianization of VMI," he says Federal District Judge Norman Moon ordered the cadets "to stop saying grace." Only later when he quotes Moon do we see the difference in meaning: it's not prayer the court is prohibiting, but imposed prayer. For power-seekers, such distinctions are immaterial, but not for the rest of the world.
Two cadets, Neil Mellen and Paul Knick, didn't like the imposition, so they had the guts to get it changed. "Judge Moon simply exploited this case to impose on VMI his own ideology," Buchanan railed.
Apparently Buchanan thinks it's okay for VMI officials to impose their ideology on its students as long as the doctrine imposed is Christianity. But when the judge prohibited imposition as such, Buchanan views it as a victory for atheism. If the judge had ordered VMI to stop praying and read passages from Ayn Rand, his contention would have substance. And Rand's followers would be leading the charge to get it overturned.
Buchanan insists that VMI was engaging in the free exercise of religion, a right secured under the Constitution. That Mellen and Knick weren't allowed the free exercise of their convictions is simply a weed in Buchanan's garden. "The few now dictate to the many," he laments, "[which is] the essence of dictatorship. How did we get here?"
Buchanan blames a Supreme Court bent on de-Christianizing America. "The Supreme Court now wields far more power over the way in which we are permitted to live our lives," he says, "than either the Congress or the president." It's a fundamental precept of our freedom -- paid for with the blood of our patriots and the moral integrity of the framers -- that no one "permits" us to live. Because of our negligence, the government has indeed switched from servant to master, but this doesn't appear to bother Buchanan, as long as the masters impose Christian values.
Once upon a time, America had rampant religious strife that didn't decline until men like Roger Williams and William Penn established societies in which religious harmony flourished. John Locke, our founders' intellectual father who proclaimed the natural rights of man, inconsistently argued for a national church, and nine of the original thirteen colonies had state religions. Patrick Henry supported Locke's idea of a state-church alliance, but it was Madison's views that prevailed in the adoption of the Constitution. You can't have it both ways, he argued -- you either have a religious state or a state that protects individual liberty.
Buchanan should know better than to call the court decision a dictatorship of the few. Prior to the ruling, it was the many who were dictating to the two cadets. In a free country no one legally dictates to anyone. As it stands now, anyone at VMI can pray on their own or refrain from doing so. In removing compulsion, the court re-established the liberty of all the cadets. Buchanan should be celebrating the decision as a rare victory for individual rights and the preservation of religion's separation from the state. Instead, he goes ballistic because two young people stood up for themselves.
Courts should rule on the basis of law, not a count of hands. The Constitution was written to protect man's rights from infringement by any individual or group, especially the government, no matter how loud or influential they are. In securing these rights, courts have ruled that students are free to exercise their beliefs even in taxpayer-supported schools, as long as no official leads the religious exercise or forces others to participate. This was not the case at VMI.
How much better off we would all be is if the courts applied the same philosophy to our economic system as they do to religious issues. Many Christians acknowledge the destructiveness of government intervention in business but somehow believe all will be rosy if the state uses its gun to back their religious preferences.
In a world sheltered by ignorance, Buchanan can almost get away with calling atheism a religion. But like his charge of dictatorship, this claim too is completely absurd. Religion is the "belief in and reverence for a supernatural power," or "a personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship." (Dictionary.com) In its most general form, atheism is simply the absence of this belief. Calling atheism a religion amounts to saying the absence of a belief is a belief. Buchanan, of course, will get more sympathy by smearing atheism than by attacking freedom.
Buchanan's VMI outburst provides more evidence that neither conservatives nor liberals are champions of man's rights. Each holds that man is not an end in himself but a means to the ends of others -- which is the essence of altruism. This view is flatly at odds with our founding philosophy and the doctrine by which we're being enslaved.
George Smith is full-time freelance writer with a special interest in liberty issues and screenwriting. His articles have appeared on Ether Zone, and in the Gwinnett Daily Post, Writer's Yearbook, Creative Loafing, and Goal Magazine. He has a web site for screenwriters and other writers at http://personal.atl.bellsouth.net/atl/g/f/gfs543/
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