sententiarum collectio

Month: October 2017

Prescient Words from a Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail¬†(text version)

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Whispering from the Recesses of Home

I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.

Justice Samuel Alito dissenting, Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015).

Much could be–and has been–written about the cultural fall-out of Obergefell, and there is no sense replicating it here. All I can do is point to the prescient arguments made by the dissent, grasping at straws to preserve the freedoms of conscience and expression.

This week’s Constitutional Law class provided a ready example, anecdotally (and ironically) proving the justice’s point. As the Socratic method of instruction does, the class was asked to explain the Court’s ruling, explain the dissent’s opinion (four separate dissents, in this case), and then choose a side to argue. No one dared to acknowledge that the majority of the Court offered almost no rationale. And no one dared to acknowledge the rationale of the dissent, let alone advocate for it, even if they wanted to.

And for good reason. Despite the Court’s quaint hope that there would remain room for respectful disagreement, no such room exists. To publicly question or doubt the wisdom of same-sex marriage is to commit an unpardonable sin, worthy of the scarlet letter B.

Academia is not safe for dissent. The market is not open to dissent. And a future lawyer has no place to dissent, as even a profession that is built upon tradition, rational arguments, and vigorous dissent has adopted a self-limiting rule against dissent on this matter.

So here I sit, whispering from the recesses of my home, just as Justice Alito predicted.

Persecution Is Perfectly Logical

Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country. I wholly disagree with the argument of the Government that the First Amendment left the common law as to seditious libel in force. History seems to me against the notion. I had conceived that the United States, through many years, had shown its repentance for the Sedition Act of 1798, by repaying fines that it imposed. Only the emergency that makes it immediately dangerous to leave the correction of evil counsels to time warrants¬†making any exception to the sweeping command, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Of course, I am speaking only of expressions of opinion and exhortations, which were all that were uttered here, but I regret that I cannot put into more impressive words my belief that, in their conviction upon this indictment, the defendants were deprived of their rights under the Constitution of the United States.

Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919), J. Holmes dissenting, emphasis added.

© 2020 Rising Prairie

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑