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Posted by Harvey on November 6, 2002 20:06:16 UTC

***but I'm enjoying the argument.***

Me too.

***It is not implausible for people to recognize the rights of others. Even Jesus taught that. There is an interesting confluence between most religious teachings (including christianity) and our government. My right to do obnoxious things stops when it infringes upon your right not to have me do something to you. Murder. Theft. Assault, etc. Neither Chrisitanity, religion in general nor our government have cornered the market on these concerns.***

Agreed. However, this itself is a philosophy that is not so universally accepted. Even today we have many totalitarians who believe that might makes right. So, there is a conflict between wanting others to share our philosophy because we trust it to be a superior philosophy, and not wanting to be so ambitious in this avenue that we suppress the rights of others (which we also hold as a superior philosophy in and of itself). Beyond certain obvious invasions of our liberties (e.g., crimes, or even what an established religion could advocate), there are many ways in which we should tolerate the influence of philosophies that differ than our own. For example, many individuals might be harmed by affirmative action, but it is a philosophy of our government, at least to some extent, to provide equality for all people's and to give those who deemed not to have all of these equalities some advantages in situations that under normal circumstances might not be fair. It is at the political level that we must decide what is fair and what is not fair, and whatever the majority want, becomes not only the accepted philosophy but part of law. Are individuals hampered or even hurt by those laws? Of course. However, the right of a particular individual must be affected in order to promote the philosophy that the populace, as a whole through their representatives, see fit as in the best interest of the nation.

***While you find it implausible, that's why the Constituion is there, to protect the rights of others against the will of the majority.***

Yes, but this is because it is seen as in the best interest of the nation to do so. It is a philosophy based on the notion that a nation is better off by protecting individual freedoms because this promotes a better society for the whole. The Constitution was not born out of thin air. It is the result of seeing what goes wrong with a society that doesn't respect individual rights.

That said, individual perceived rights are always going to be sacrificed whenever a philosophy of the people (i.e., of their representatives since this is a representative democracy) deems that more precendence must be placed on higher causes. Taxation is one such example. We tax the wealthy a higher percentage than we tax the poor. Why is that? Is that fair? Yes, it is fair because the nation has a philosophy that the wealthy obtain the biggest gain of prosperity that our nation produces, and therefore they should shoulder more of the responsibility in paying for the infrastructure that this nation needs to produce that kind of wealth. This principle takes precedence over so-called individual rights that you are entitled to every dollar you earn, or, at least, you shouldn't have to pay more taxes percentage-wise than anyone else. Can the legislature change this policy and go to a straight flat tax? Of course! There is no rule of law which restricts the philosophy of taxation beyond what is stated in the Constitution (e.g., no taxation without repesentation, etc).

***If the Constituion only recognized the power of the legislature as supreme, it would be superfluous. What the Constitution and the Bill of Rights do, (and what the states insisted that it do before they ratified it--hence the addition of the Bill of Rights as an afterthough) was to restrict the power of the legislature to rule by majority vote.***

That's right. But, this limitation of legislative powers is at the very heart of the Constitution. This limitation prevents majorities from re-writing the Constitution as they might do in a time of crisis, however it doesn't prevent legislators from governing the country with philosophies shared by the majority. For example, there is nothing in the Constitution about a flat tax, and legislators are free to adopt it or reject it as long as the Constitution is not compromised. Similarly, other philosophies of justice, morality, law, etc can all be exercised freely by the legislature without jurisprudence from the judicial branch just as long as the Constitution is not compromised.

***Now, where Christianity and the Constituition diverge is upon my right NOT to believe in your God. Christianity, at least as it is practiced today, is a judgmental religion. It's basic tenets say that if I do not believe in God, or more particularly Christ, then I'm in deep do-do.***

You have rights under the First Amendment to have your freedom of speech. You are not required to be silent on your belief that God doesn't exist. However, you do not have a right to control the legislature of the country. You must convince your legislatures or the judicial branch that you rights are somehow being violated and that the laws should change to respect your individual rights. If your claims are constitutionally valid, then you have a case. However, unless this is the case, you must convince the legislatures to protect whatever rights that you feel are being violated. To do so, you would have to convince the powers-that-be that you or your family is somehow suffering psychologically or physically by being made to feel that you are in deep do-do for not believing in God. That is not an easy case, since religions have freedom of speech, and you would have to show how their statements are beyond that of free speech, and that those statements are somehow government endorsed. Just vague references to God on certain government buildings and documents does not cut it. These clauses are part of the philosophy of the country as a whole, and therefore they are deemed acceptable. Unless it can be showed that the First Amendment is being violated, there wouldn't be a case. And, this is how the Supreme Court has thus far ruled on this matter.

***On the other hand, my Constituion (and I'm quite proud of it) says on this matter essentially two things. 1) I don't have to believe in any particular religionand 2) the Government can't make me believe in anything in particular either. Keep in mind that the Constitution does not restrict your right to try to make me believe in something. It only keeps you from using the power of government to coerce. Therefore, you are free to practice as you believe and so am I. We just have to leave the government out of it.***

That's right, one is not required to believe in any religion. In addition, one is not required to believe in particular philosophies as long as one does not violate the laws that might even endorse those philosophies. For example, it doesn't matter if one believe in income taxes or not, one is free to believe that income taxes are foolishness and against the Constitution. However, one must pay their income taxes or go to jail. Likewise, one can deny less serious matters such as a policy that local or the national government has endorsed. Such policies might be social, political, or entirely philosophical, and they might even be disadvantageous to us (e.g., where nuclear waste should be placed), but we cannot claim in these instances that the Constitution has been violated.

A belief in God is such a policy. I would say that it is the philosophy of the American people that God exists. The philosophy of the American people accept that there are detractors from this belief, and these atheists have certain rights not to be made to believe or participate in matters which endorse that view. However, these detractors of this particular American philosophy do not have the right to determine the philosophy of the American state by using the Constitution to do so. This is outside the scope of the First Amendement.

Warm regards, Harv

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