What follows is the story of two parents. One is a citizen of the United States, born and bred here, currently living in Ohio. The other is a person who was born in another country and crossed the border into the United States illegally, bringing his or her children along. Both parents placed their children in public school, but the outcomes for each family were very different. One parent was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to jail. The other parent was unmolested by the authorities. Which was which? Can you guess?
Before I answer those questions and use those answers to demonstrate the flaw in modern liberal thinking that I mentioned above, let’s examine the foundation of various schools of thought in the context of the American legal system. Gird your loins, folks, I’m going to talk philosophy for a minute or two. I’ll try to be gentle. Here goes.
In order to build a solid structure, a building must have a firm foundation. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted a wise man, who built his house upon a rock, with a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. When the storms came, only the wise man’s house was left standing.
Similarly, a belief system must be built upon a solid foundation. The basic premises — the propositions upon which a belief system or argument is based — must be fundamentally sound. If they aren’t, any belief, opinion, or argument based on them will, ultimately, fail when those premises are challenged and proven faulty. In the same vein, those basic premises should not lead to contradictory conclusions, much like the sum of 2 and 2 should always be 4.
The American legal system was originally based upon the Judeo-Christian belief that absolute truth exists and, consequently, so do “right” and “wrong.” Our Founders called the Republic created by the U.S. Constitution a government of laws, not of men.1 “(Recent happenings) will convince any candid mind, that there is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is “an empire of laws, and not of men.” That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or, in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the laws, is the best of republics.” — John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Apr. 1776, Papers 4:86–93. And “[t]he very act of passing a law and enforcing it suggests a fixed standard that everyone is expected to adhere to.” Among the various major political ideologies that exist today in America, the belief system commonly referred to as conservatism most closely reflects the values of the Founders in this regard.
According to Milton Friedman, conservatism generally holds freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in society. In political matters, it supports the development of representative government and of parliamentary institutions, reduction in the arbitrary power of the state, and protection of the civil freedoms of individuals. But Friedman argued that conservatism is a misnomer, given that adherents “do not wish to conserve the state interventions that have interfered so greatly with our freedom, though, of course, we do wish to conserve those that have promoted it.” He also correctly noted that “in practice, the term conservatism has come to cover so wide a range of views, and views so incompatible with one another, that we shall no doubt see the growth of hyphenated designations, such as libertarian-conservative and aristocratic-conservative.” I say Friedman was correct in his latter assertion because, if people who call themselves conservative actually subscribed to the tenets Friedman identified and conducted themselves accordingly, GiN’s ongoing series characterizing the Nebraska Republican Party as the preferred political party of the Ruling Class in this state would not be necessary.
Differences aside, however, most people who self-label as conservative would, in a philosophical sense, agree with the Founders that absolute truth exists, particularly as to the moral distinction between right and wrong. This is true primarily because conservatives typically share the basic Judeo-Christian values so prevalent during the age when our country was founded. Research shows that conservatives are more religious than modern liberals and, also, more likely to practice their religion in their daily lives, for example, by being more charitable. The results of various polls measuring values and ethics conclude that self-described conservatives are more honest and exhibit higher levels of ethical values than self-described liberals.
In contrast, modern liberals/Progressives generally subscribe to one of two opposing foundational views. The first, moral relativism, is the polar opposite of the Judeo-Christian ethic. Moral relativism is the idea that “ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and, therefore, subject to a person’s individual choice.” In other words, there are no absolutes. No absolute truth, no right, no wrong, just what each individual decides is true for him or herself at any particular time in a given situation.
A society whose governing philosophy is moral relativism must, actually, have more government, more laws, stricter enforcement, and it must impose more stringent punishment. Why? Limited government is only possible when men are capable of the level of self-control that comes with a moral, religious world view.2 “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” — John Adams. (John Adams, “The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, ed. (Boston: Little, Brown 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229; cited in Crismier, Preserve us a Nation, p. 37) “All human laws involve some moral principle being enforced by threat of consequences. Speed limits are enforced on most roads because of a moral conviction that risking other people’s lives is wrong. The same is true for murder, theft, perjury, fraud, and so forth. When moral relativism becomes dominant, however, legitimate moral principles are no longer the foundation of those laws. Since everything is relative, then these laws are just a matter of opinion, and the only universal reason to follow them is to avoid consequences. This strongly encourages people to look for ways to ‘get away with it’; after all, it’s just one person’s opinion against someone else’s.”
Between these two polar opposite world views is situational ethics. Situational ethicists acknowledge the existence of right and wrong, but contend that the identification of what is right and wrong do not depend on law, but on Love. “Decision-making should be based upon the circumstances of a particular situation, and not upon fixed Law. The only absolute is Love. Love should be the motive behind every decision. As long as Love is your intention, the end justifies the means. Justice is not in the letter of the Law, it is in the distribution of Love.” In essence, according to this view, so long as someone’s motives are pure, they should not be held accountable for violations of laws that, as applied in a given situation and from the violator’s perspective, appear to create an “unjust” result.
Okay. Lecture’s over for today. There will be a quiz the second Tuesday of next week. (Obviously, just kidding.)
I’m not doing this just to make your eyes start to glaze over. I really DO have a purpose, and it’s to make this point: Applying moral relativism and/or situational ethics in the context of the American legal system, as modern liberalism attempts to do, leads to inequality before the law and, thus, to a government of men, not of laws.
So how does all of this apply to the two parents I introduced you to at the beginning of this article?
In the case of the Ohio mom, she registered her children in a public school district different than the one in which she and her children lived and in which she paid taxes. You see, the schools in her home district were so bad, the mother sought a better education for her daughters by enrolling them in a high-achieving school in a neighboring district and giving the school the children’s grandfather’s address as their home address, since he lived within that district. The school her children were attending discovered that they were “boundary-hopping,” and their mother was arrested, charged with, and convicted of two counts of grand theft, which is a felony offense.
Apparently, the Ohio mother is not alone. According to an October 1, 2011, story in the Wall Street Journal, there’s a crime wave rolling across the fruited plain, and it’s called “educational theft.” Parents in at least four states, Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio, have been prosecuted for the offense. The problem is apparently so severe that public school districts are now adopting extreme measures to detect the crime.
“From California to Massachusetts, districts are hiring special investigators to follow children from school to their homes to determine their true residences and decide if they ‘belong’ at high-achieving public schools. School districts in Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all boasted recently about new address-verification programs designed to pull up their drawbridges and keep ‘illegal students’ from entering their gates.
“Other school districts use services like VerifyResidence.com, which provides ‘the latest in covert video technology and digital photographic equipment to photograph, videotape, and document’ children going from their house to school. School districts can enroll in the company’s rewards program, which awards anonymous tipsters $250 checks for reporting out-of-district students.”
Why are the public schools so authoritarian all of a sudden? Money. How can those high-achieving schools remain high-achieving if they are compelled to teach more children without the tax funds to support the district? How can those same high-achieving schools continue to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards if children from poorer neighborhoods, who, on average, perform less well on standardized tests, are flooding their classrooms?
A WSJ reader, Bradford Child, posted the following comment to the Wall Street Journal piece:
“This story is so rich with irony. A US Citizen commits a felony by declaring she lives in better school district to give her kids a better chance at the ‘American dream’. While simultaneously, all over America, illegal aliens send there (sic) kids to school and we’re ‘heartless’ if we don’t educate them?
“Anybody else think we’re nutz?”
I do (raising my hand here in front of my computer monitor). How about y’all?
I thought so.
Of course, Mr. Child’s reference to heartlessness pertains to Governor and Presidential Candidate Rick Perry. Perry was booed during a recent debate when he defended the Texas Dream Act, saying: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, then I don’t think you have a heart.” At issue was whether states should allow the children of illegal aliens, many of whom are illegals themselves, to pay resident, rather than more expensive non-resident, tuition at state colleges and universities.
But the Governor’s statement about “heart” was much broader than that, seemingly referring to education at all levels. Many public school districts in Texas and across the nation are suffering from budget shortages precisely because of the expense incurred as a result of an influx of non-English speaking students, the children of illegal aliens. And many illegals come to America to secure a better education for their children, among other benefits available here (i.e., employment, social welfare benefits, better housing, etc.). The presence of so many non-English speaking children also threatens many school districts’ abilities to meet NCLB expectations and standards.
Yet, teacher’s unions and public school administrators are among those that oppose measures, like that adopted in Alabama, which allow officials to check the immigration status of children in public schools. Moreover, they generally oppose the deportation of illegal aliens currently in this country, denial of social welfare benefits to illegals, and securing the border to curb the influx. Rather, they tend, as a group, to advocate for general amnesty and open borders.
There is an inherent contradiction in jailing an American citizen for “theft” for placing her children in school in a “foreign” district (i.e., where they were, essentially, illegals) and, at the same time, allowing the children of illegal immigrants to attend schools in this country on the grounds that it would be “heartless” to deny the illegals an education. If the American citizen was committing theft, and she was, so are the illegal immigrants. Like the American mother, they’ve broken the law (in their case, immigration law) and, also like the American mother, they do it precisely because they are seeking a better education for their children.
Similarly, if it’s legitimate to retain private investigators to “tail” school children home or to utilize an address verification system to ascertain their true address or to pay informants to rat on children who reside outside the district where they attend school, why is it wrong for the State of Alabama to verify the immigration status of those same public school children? The answer is, there is no moral distinction between the two groups that justifies treating them differently under the law.
These contradictions result when moral relativism and/or situational ethics are substituted in place of the Judeo-Christian morality that forms the basis for our legal system. The product is inequality before the law. Lady Justice is depicted as blindfolded for a reason. The blindfold symbolizes the fact that all persons are equal before her, regardless of race, creed, color, social status, etc. When excuses are offered for illegal aliens, or supporters attempt to justify illegals’ presence here by citing to the circumstances in their country of origin that caused them to flee to the U.S. or by contending that they only sought a better life for their children, what they are really arguing for is a suspension of law. They’re contending that immigration law should not apply to illegals because the illegals had a good excuse or reason for what they did. (Or maybe they crossed their fingers as they crossed the border and shouted “King’s X” like we did when we were children to suspend the rules of a game we were playing. The effect would be the same.)
But the fact that conditions were hard in an illegal alien’s country of origin is not a defense to the charge of violating immigration law. (Neither is the “King’s X” thing, by the way.) The hardship defense isn’t sufficient to exonerate the American mother described in the Wall Street Journal article either. Nor should the law vary based on the quality of the violator’s intention or the goal he or she sought to achieve by breaking the law. The ends never justify the means, and good intentions comprise the paving stones that smooth the path to Hell. In both cases, theft is theft.
Our legal system depends upon a clear delineation between right and wrong. Conservative political ideology acknowledges that civilized society is not possible without recognition of those absolutes. Modern liberalism is based on philosophies that either completely deny the existence of right and wrong or obfuscate the issue. Instead of justice for all before the law, moral relativism and situational ethics lead to a “pass” for certain favored groups. Selective enforcement of this nature converts our legal system to one based on the whims of man, as opposed to the stability of law.
Notes & References [ + ]
|1.||↑||“(Recent happenings) will convince any candid mind, that there is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is “an empire of laws, and not of men.” That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or, in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the laws, is the best of republics.” — John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Apr. 1776, Papers 4:86–93.|
|2.||↑||“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” — John Adams. (John Adams, “The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, ed. (Boston: Little, Brown 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229; cited in Crismier, Preserve us a Nation, p. 37)|