Lord, We Thank You for: Lines Not to be Crossed

At some point decisions have to be made about what we are willing to do or not do, no matter how well-intentioned our “betters” want to sound

Over the last two or three years it has become quite evident that we may be reaching a point in our Republic where there could be… choices that need to be made. Choices with real consequences. The type of choices in which as a modern advanced Constitutional Republic, one would hope we are not supposed to be having to make. The last few months have brought this home in crystal clear terms, but the seeds of the challenges at play were planted several years ago.

Instead of going through that sordid history, we should simply lay this out in terms of lines. Lines (borders, limits, boundaries) that freedom-loving citizens shouldn’t be asked to cross (or have crossed). The beginning for us can best be relayed by a conversation I had with my son several months ago while the Virginia General Assembly was in session. The conversation mostly focused around the the potential of the state government enforcing strictures around the purchase, ownership, and possession of certain… items, items the rights to ownership and possession of which are covered in the one of the top 5 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Let’s call them… “books.”

The bulk of our discussion was my assurance that there was not going to be a blaze of glory battle to defend our … books (my namesake notwithstanding), but that if an attempt to take them from us was made, that I had to be literally willing to go to jail. Why must I be willing to go to jail? Are these…books… that important? Maybe my books and papers and person are not important, nor their use that critical, at any given time. The point is that we have to be willing to pay a high price in protecting them…maybe not our lives, unless our lives were threatened, but jail time, if that’s on the table, we had to be willing to do. The abiding reasons for this we’ll come back to later, but first let’s go over a few more “lines” that are not crossable.

Let’s start with…

MY HOME

The Commonwealth that I call home has decided (or rather the Governor of the Commonwealth has decided) that the maximum number of people that should be allowed to gather together to break bread in a PRIVATE home is 25. Other states have put the bar lower, with CA and NY (and others) going for a 10 person cap, and states such as Oregon (and the country of Scotland) are capping attendance at SIX.

Of course this comes on the cusp of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the potential for different households merging together for hours and often traveling a few states to get there. At first glance it could seem that 25 strikes as a reasonable cap, and 6 or 10 could be a little … extreme. But since 10 is a pretty standard “Phase Zero” maximum in commercial settings, it’s not unheard of. But ask yourselves, what is the difference between 25 and 6 as a policy matter? Well… the answer is the will of the Governor. There is no democratic process by which this is playing out. It’s all in terms of emergency and executive power. And worse than that, it turns on momentum and political pressure: if you’re a governor or mayor, and one governor of your party does it, you have to immediately start asking, “Maybe we should look into that too?” Is that the way this should work? While you stew on that, and the way that your favorite executive is just “following the science,” let’s talk about…

MASKS

My first reaction to masks was one of ambivalence. I understood the intent but felt that the use of them as an all the time occurrence was…extreme. That was back about 15 minutes after Dr. Fauci and company were discouraging the use of masks (a “noble lie,” for our own good, to be sure), and while we were all washing our hands 15 times a day and sanitizing all surfaces we were in contact with every hour on the the hour.

Since then the science has evolved. To put it succinctly, we now know that the incessant hand-washing might have been … a little overblown (that being said, that’s still a great way to prevent the “regular” flu — lest we forget!), and that the masks are indeed very important. That being said, some states are now requiring masks be worn OUTSIDE. This is something with zero scientific backing. The science shows that the viral load required to transmit the disease is almost impossible outside as long as you are able to socially distance. In an outdoors situation, fifteen minutes uninterrupted presence within 6 feet would be required in order to trigger a “quarantine event.” In Pennsylvania (to combine these issues), the ordinance requires that people wear masks when you have friends from another household in your home, regardless of the number (and now health experts are scientistically advising there are two circumstances in which you should wear a mask outside: 1) if you are unable to properly socially distance - legit - and 2) if your state has a law against it…. wait what?

Which brings us to…

THE VACCINE

There is also a lot of buzzing about around the incoming administration’s potential mandating of the new Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Plus, barring a real mandate, we have the potential schemes of say… color-coded passes: “Hey, as long as you have a green badge (denoting vaccinated), then you can go to the mall, or the movie, or work,”… so you know, what could go wrong there? Legally we could have religious exemptions, but are we sure that the mall is going to allow un-vaccinated Christian Scientists, or that they should be made to? “The Scarlet C” sounds like a great title to a book. Speaking of…

RELIGION

This brings us to one of those Top 5 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which includes Freedom of Religion. I’ve never been shy about my position on issues such as the Masterpiece Bakery v the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a Christian baker was forced by his state to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The entirety of “cancel culture” is beginning to coalesce around a few basic ideas of sex, gender, science and religion, in which the state’s position is being deemed essential (and the definition of “science”), and consenting opinions as not welcome. Speaking of consent…

BELIEVE THE SCIENCE

Even those who aren’t expressly religious are routinely raked over the coals (and some ironically have made their living off the exposure due to this attempted cancelling) for refusing to abide by the latest twists and turns of sex, gender, pronouns, identity, and/or pick your toxic stew of post-modernism, cultural marxism, and identitarianism. At this point, it doesn’t seem to matter how much love, respect, care, and compassion we show for those who might have different views or identities, what matters is whether we speak the right language, use the right terms, genuflect appropriately to our … avowed privilege and fragility. In other words, we need to think a certain way about something that is not really completely agreed upon logically or scientifically, or face the consequences. In places like Canada, that has shown itself to have legal consequences.

The challenging part of this of course is not simply the disagreement about terms, or about science, or about reality, or choice or consequences, but about the simple principle of treating people: 1) as human beings first, 2) as individuals second, and 3) going tribal as a fully last resort. It’s becoming… evident that this is a requirement for productive conversations in these divisive times.

These lines, these limits, are such that people are willing to go to jail for them, to lose their business or even their lives for them. They are lines that we have to wonder if we want the government to cross and force action on.

To be perfectly clear, it doesn’t matter if we think the science says something that it doesn’t, or we know it says something that it does; it doesn’t matter if we would bake the cake; it doesn’t matter if we’re perfectly comfortable and willing to cancel our Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Dinner plans; or whether we wear a mask when we have a couple friends over. Overall, it doesn’t matter whether we think someone is.. wrong, even if their wrongness COULD, possibly, in some statistically infinitesimally possible way, affect the lives of others, as that argument could be made for… any number of things.

What matters — or to be more specific, what is at issue — here is:

a) whether we think the tools that states are taking on, the muscles they seem to be getting a little more comfortable flexing, are appropriate for the states to use, knowing how easily they can be abused;

b) we would turn in a neighbor for having that 7th guest over, even if they don’t get a chance to see them that often; or

c) whether we would demand someone go against their deeply held beliefs (in terms of religion OR science) to please the feelings of someone else’s beliefs (in the case of caps on your dinner count, the governor’s and his advisors’ political fortunes).

On the latter, the aforementioned “cancel culture” has been gaining steam for almost a decade now and there are people in government who are willing to kowtow to whomever is the most demanding. Watch your Governor or Mayor, or especially those executives who have been under the most pressure from the current bouts of civil unrest, and ask yourself: are they are as concerned about the checks and limited nature of their powers as they are about their popularity and/or political prospects?

Back to the central question…

WHY BE WILLING TO GO TO JAIL

As I explained to my son, the reason why we have to be willing to go to jail, and at the worst, even lose our livelihoods or lives is that, as long as enough law-abiding, moral citizens are willing to do so, it drastically decreases the likelihood that the powers that be will use the tools that they are being given - tools they really shouldn’t have at all - in over-reaching and abusive ways.

Our reading a few weeks back in “Great Ideas Through the Arts” was from the book of Acts. In chapters 21 to 26, Paul is being persecuted, not by the Romans (call it the “Federal Government” of the day), but by the Pharisees and Sadducees for preaching that following the ritual sacrifice rules were no longer necessary. Paul called upon one simple fact that probably saved his life: he was a Roman citizen. And that citizenship came with protections that could not be dismissed by even the most zealous public official.

So as we go to to Thanksgiving this week, whether we’re meeting up with family the traditional way, or the “new normal” way — over the Zooms; whether we’re flouting the new law, flaunting our abiding by the new law, or neither — we should be thankful that there are those willing to take a position that the government can’t cross certain lines. Be thankful for limitations on authority, and be watchful for when those limitations are not being respected. We should keep an eye on the boundaries where morality and common sense intersect with hard choices and government power. We thank the Good Lord for limited government and the Bill of Rights, and for those who in the years ahead will be willing to stand up at the thresholds of their home and and say: no further. And, even more to the point… make sure that We. Are. That. Person. And pray that our commitment isn’t tested any time soon.