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I am speaking of the economic battles states and localities wage against one another when they compete for new businesses via economic incentives such as tax breaks, regulatory exemptions, or taxpayer funded grants and loans that are offered only to specific companies.
As a member of the ACLU, I look to that organization for the legal defense of our enumerated rights. The ACLU does stand up for the enumerated civil liberties spelled out in the Constitution. However, reading the current issue of the ACLU newsletter, I found myself wondering if the ACLU is unconsciously contributing to the public’s indifference and hostility to civil liberty. The newsletter’s list of legal highlights for 2010 presents the ACLU’s activities as being concentrated in efforts to legalize homosexual marriage, to protect abortion from curbs, and to end the promotion of religious beliefs in public schools.
These are all issues that infuriate conservatives, and these are the issues that conservatives identify with civil liberties. Therefore, much of the public is not the least bit perturbed to hear that civil liberties are under attack when many understand civil liberties to consist of criminal rights, prayer bans, abortion, and homosexual marriage. This is dangerous, because in the public’s mind, civil liberty can easily morph from procedures that coddle criminals into procedures that coddle terrorists. Should this occur, all would be lost. Defense of the enumerated rights would become “giving aid and comfort to terrorists.”
It is not my purpose to argue the validity of the ACLU’s position on abortion and homosexual marriage. I am sure that the ACLU is convinced that homosexual and abortion rights are somewhere in the Constitution, but they are not enumerated rights, and the conservatives know it. When the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written, I don’t know if abortion and homosexual acts were the statutory offenses that they were during much of my lifetime, but they were not socially approved behavior that the Founding Fathers thought worthy of constitutional protection. The separation of church and state means no state church or taxpayer support. It does not mean no prayer in public schools. Ironic, isn’t it, that today with faith-based initiatives we have taxpayers’ money going to religious institutions, but no prayer in school.
When the issue is raised that perhaps the Constitution like common law can change as people’s mores change, conservatives reply that if the Constitution can change, anything can be put into it or be taken out, such as the civil liberties that I am complaining about Bush taking out. As for abortion and gay marriage, these are things that conservatives think activist judges and the ACLU put into the Constitution. Strictures against abortion and homosexuals should have been overturned legislatively, not by inventive interpretations of the Constitution.
The unintended consequence of the judicial branch exercising the legislative function in the name of constitutional rights has been the alienation of a large percentage of the population from civil liberty concerns. Today much of the population views the ACLU as a threat to society comparable to terrorism.
In addition, I am pleased to announce that the monthly celebration of the Dominican Rite Mass for the students of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (Arch and Vine Streets, Berkeley CA), shown in the photo to the left, will be continued this spring. This Mass was instituted in fall 2010 at the request of our lay students, and the strong attendance by both lay and religious students makes it likely that the number of celebrations will be increased to more than one a month. It has been offered by Fr. Anselm Ramelow, O.P., but we expect to add additional celebrants. I will announce the days and times when they are set. DSPT has been drawing large numbers of new lay students for the M.A. programs in both philosophy and theology and this is one of our responses to their spiritual needs.That's the first I've heard of it; I'd like to go out to the DSPT despite the distance. It would be great if it were celebrated somewhere closer.