“They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing”

Some of our “worship words“:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

“No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

“[T]he accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial…”

“[C]ruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.”

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens…”

Sarah Palin came in for her usual shellacking recently for referring to her First Amendment rights in a connection that made no legal sense, as no private party can infringe your constitutional rights: only government can. But I took her to mean something else, and something important with which I know liberal experts in constitutional jurisprudence would heartily agree: underneath the restraints on government action we find in our constitution are values which those restraints express.

Not being bullied by demands for proof of loyalty is good. Not being treated as a traitor unless one literally is one is good. Exercise of the religion of one’s choice is good. Lively and open airing of views is good. Living free from fear of harmful, arbitrary treatment is good. Being alive is good. Getting to go where you want and do what you like as long as you don’t interfere with others’ doing the same is good. Getting to do what you like with your property without begging permission from your neighbors is good. Knowing where you stand when you are in trouble is good. Being safe is good; knowing that your body is sacred and that certain kinds of pain need not be feared from men is good. Being able to hold your head up high and say “here, we are equal” instead of being treated as second class or second-rate because of where you were born, how you were brought up, what you look like or what you are, is good.

There are, of course, other good things, like making wonderful movies, working hard, doing impressive scientific research, caring for the poor, having a strong military, feeling a sense of oneness and common purpose, feeling like the defenders of civilization. Those things are good too, but they are not good enough because, as I tried to explain awhile back, the Germans had all those things too, in the 30s and 40s. But they didn’t have our worship words, or the faith that lies behind them. And that is why they destroyed themselves, and took millions down with them.

And that is why I am saddened that people who call themselves Americans will be staging a book-burning. Not because they are violating anyone’s constitutional rights; in fact, they are expressing their own constitutional rights. But it is possible to exercise those rights while at the same time betraying the faith that lies behind them. For me, that faith is everything; it is the only faith I have. They have another faith, one that I think means more to them. But I wish they had gone to church less, and watched Star Trek more. You can learn a lot that way.


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