November 21, 2004

Religion and politics

Don Herzog, Herzog: "A Christian Nation?": November 21, 2004

Well, right, that's a huge topic -- or, better, a cluster of topics.  I flinch, for instance, every time people champion or condemn "the separation of church and state," because that could mean lots of things, some of them good, some not.  (I teach first amendment and begin the section on the religion clauses with a quick battery of cases designed to show the students that "separation" can't settle anything.  Even though some of the justices have thought it can:  there are inadvertently hilarious moments in the cases, with for instance Frankfurter meeting a challenge to religious teachers coming into Illinois public schools by intoning, "Separation means separation, not something less."  Gee, thanks.)

So here's one topic, or anyway a smaller cluster.  Lots of people on the right complain that this is a Christian nation and liberalism makes us lie and pretend it isn't.  "Christian nation" has to mean more than "a nation in which lots of Christians live."  The smartest version of the argument I know is in Richard John Neuhaus's The Naked Public Square, which has some great vignettes:  the TV cameras went off, he reports, whenever Martin Luther King started talking scripture, and King remarked sadly -- I'm going by memory here -- "they want to know what we're doing, but not why we're doing it; so they'll never really understand what we're doing."

So what would change if we agreed that we are a Christian nation? Well, I'd get jittery:  but why?  I asked a really smart conservative Christian student of mine what would change.  He didn't know.  I asked if the University of Michigan could impose a religion test on hiring faculty, on the theory that we are entrusted with educating the young and a Christian nation doesn't trust diffident Jews and atheists with that task.  He was horrified:  "of course not!"  I asked if only Christians should be permitted to serve on juries.  More horror, this time laced with the suspicion that I was teasing.  I asked if people who could demonstrate regular church attendance or home prayer should be given income tax deductions.  Now he knew I was teasing.

But I wasn't.  I really wanted to know what would change.  The right likes to lampoon the left for its infatuation with identity politics. Now there must be more to "Christian America" than right-wing identity politics.  It seems too skeptical, too derisive, to think that if people weren't bridling under the perception that "liberal elites" sneered at them, we wouldn't face demands for school prayer, creationism, and the like.  So what else is there?

secular humanism

Don Herzog: November 21, 2004

Is America succumbing to secular humanism?  And is secular humanism a(nother) religion?

Again I want to ask, what's the ism?  For sure, lots of pedagogy underplays or erases the role of religion.  A favorite example of mine is Washington's Farewell Address.  From grade school on, Americans learn that the grand old man counselled no entangling alliances in foreign policy.  As indeed he did.  But -- to overstate the point only slightly -- that's almost an afterthought in the speech.  Washington wonders whether the American republic can survive without staunch Christianity (read:  Protestantism).  He concedes there may be a few people (read:  Jefferson) who can be counted on to be virtuous without religion, but says that America must depend on Christianity.  That gets whitewashed out of the historical record.  It shouldn't be:  that's indefensible Orwellian Newspeak, every bit as unbelievable as the poster in my daughter's third-grade classroom that listed the four principles of the founding fathers.  The last on the list was "diversity."  Yeah sure.

Is secular humanism the principle that dictates, "no prayer in public schools"?  We don't -- and shouldn't -- follow quite that principle.  No one races over to stop the kids in the lunchroom from saying grace before they devour the soggy french fries.  And contrary to mythology, a mandated moment of silence at the beginning of the school day is perfectly constitutional, and should be.  (Alabama ran into trouble when they amended their existing "moment of silence" statute to make it clear that prayer was permissible.  The Court decided the legislature was doing a nudge-nudge-wink-nod routine to encourage or endorse prayer.)

But if the principle mandates that teachers or principals or school boards not encourage or require students to pray, it's a damned good one -- even though it outrages many.  It's open to two readings.  One: "prayer doesn't belong here."  Two:  "prayer is bad."  Liberals read it the first way, some evangelicals the second.  (Try comparing the rule, "no sex in school."  Or, "no using cellphones in school.")  Why?

For centuries, there have been two strands of liberalism.  One is frankly, violently, gleefully anti-clerical.  Diderot and Voltaire write this way, I suppose because of the whopping power and wealth of the Catholic Church in 18th-century France.  The other is absolutely respectful of religion but anguished about maintaining social order and civility after the Reformation.  No surprise, then, that some Americans hear echoes of the first tradition in such rules as "no prayer in schools," not least because some of us on the left are in fact anti-clerical, and stories about Rawlsian public reason and the like don't command wide allegiance or even comprehension.

We need to press the first reading of such rules as "no prayer in schools."  I suppose there's room to enlist Christians worried about the perils of Caesarism:  though the mainstream news media largely ignored them, many devoutly religious types were themselves outraged by talk of "flag desecration," not because it's all that awful to burn a flag or wear it on your butt, but because a flag is profane, not the sort of thing that can be desecrated.  But this will remain an uphill struggle, even though one well worth pursuing.

December 02, 2004

public, private, and schools

Don Herzog: December 2, 2004

The public/private distinctions -- plural deliberately chosen, thank you very much -- are awfully slippery.  That means they'll be hard to sort out crisply here, but more important that it will always be easy for political actors to play fast and loose with them.

If a public school teacher can decide that a 7-year-old student has misbehaved for explaining to a classmate that he has two mothers, who are gay, something has misfired dreadfully.  But I bet some people will think allowing students to share such information in school, let alone encouraging -- or requiring -- them to treat the messenger and the news with respect, counts as "promoting a homosexual lifestyle," or some such bugbear.

Susan Okin wanted the liberal state to use the public schools to declare war on gender formations, which she saw as radically unjust on their own terms and as having dreadful larger political implications.  The argument is a political nonstarter, or, worse, counterproductive.  (Can't you hear Rush Limbaugh sneering?)  Still asking the public schools to keep silent on everything that's controversial -- evolution, gender, you name it -- or simply to report multiple positions -- evolution and creationism, equality and homophobia, &c -- is indefensible.

Some battles here have to be fought.  These days some serious conservatives, and some serious reactionaries, have mobilized to take over school boards.  If you were troubled by the news that some states are watering down evolution, and some textbook publishers are too, just wait.  This is one of many reasons it's politically suicidal, as well as indefensible on grounds of principle, for liberals to spend so much time and energy whispering in the ears of appellate court judges.

December 08, 2004

inner city blues

Don Herzog: December 8, 2004

I wouldn't say that symbolic issues don't matter politically.  They clearly motivate people and it would be crazy to say that as a general matter they shouldn't.  But I sometimes ruefully think we are fiddling while Rome burns.  (I think gay marriage matters.  I think flag-burning, to invoke another proposed constitutional amendment that gets people excited, basically doesn't.)

Everyone knows the dreadful facts about the state of many inner-city communities:  unemployment rates running 30, 40 percent; lots of crime; broken families; dismal schools....  The litany goes on, and we know how to recite it, and nothing is happening.  And there are demographic problems in some of these cities:  the population of Detroit proper (not its wealthy suburbs) is down well over half from its peak, and it's very hard to run a decent city with block after block of vacant buildings.  As long as we can warehouse an astonishing proportion of young black men in the criminal justice system, as long as the thin blue line will guard those of us lucky enough to live elsewhere, we don't care.

So -- this is a serious question -- what can and should be done?  I don't know if Jack Kemp's proposed enterprise zones would have worked, but boy I would have loved to see some state experiment with them.  I think it is overstated to say that the Great Society was a failure, overstated too to quip that its real success was in hiring black Americans as federal employees and moving them into the middle class as bureaucrats.  The left is often ridiculed, sometimes rightly so, for ritually intoning "there ought to be a law" in response to one social problem after another.  Should there be new laws? or what?

December 09, 2004

equality of opportunity: one

Don Herzog: December 9, 2004

In 1573 England, John Fortescue was irritated by Lord Grey's hunting on his property.  He asked him to stop.  "Stuff a turd in your teeth," the lord said breezily.  (No points for guessing how we say that today.)  "I will hunt it, and it shall be hunted in spite of all you can do."  Fortescue wouldn't have gotten anywhere with a trespass action.  Peers of the realm couldn't be arrested except for treason, felony, and breach of the peace; they couldn't be forced to appear in court on most writs; they didn't have to testify under oath; they didn't sit on juries.  Their status as aristocrats made them magically exempt from these requirements.  And what we call equality under the law was born as a campaign to strip people of special privileges -- and burdens -- based on their status.

In 1762 Toulouse, Jean Calas was broken on the wheel and executed after being found guilty of the murder of his son, Marc-Antoine.  Marc had been found dead in the family's apartment after excusing himself from dinner.  The family didn't immediately claim he'd committed suicide:  they hadn't wanted to, they explained, because the bodies of suicides were cast ignominiously on the trash heap outside town.  But really, they said, that's what he had done.  Why?  Well, he was depressed about his inability to practice law.  As a Huguenot (or Protestant), he couldn't be admitted to the bar:  you couldn't practice law in France without proving that you'd recently accepted the Catholic sacraments.

The authorities had another theory of the case.  Scrupulously following contemporary procedure, they posted signs offering to reward testimony not just that family members had been heard threatening Marc, but that he had been planning to convert to Catholicism to become a lawyer.  And anyway it was well known that Luther and Calvin had taught their followers that it would be better to murder a Protestant than allow him to leave the true faith and roast in hell as a papist.  The evidence was forthcoming, Jean convicted, and an old annual parade celebrating St. Bartholemew's Day massacre, a bloodbath of Huguenots in 1572, was revved up again.

No special privileges at law for aristocrats, no special disabilities for Catholics, and so on:  that campaign for equality under the law has been spectacularly successful, even though it struck conservative contemporaries as simple lunacy, a threat to the very possibility of social order.  So too for the closely connected ideal of equality of opportunity, which also flatly prohibits forbidding Protestants from becoming lawyers.  It isn't fair.

In the popular image, everyone has to run the race by the same rules.  And then we get a familiar contrast -- there's an especially hilarious version in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," where a nastily leftist future USA handicaps the talented and superior to drag them down to everyone else's level, or, rather, the level of the least talented.  (For the record, egalitarians looking at fancy universities for the elite did not burn down the universities.  They campaigned for universal education.)  Equality of opportunity is great; equality of outcome -- somehow trying to ensure that everyone crosses the finish line together, or that everyone earn $28,967 a year, live in an 1100-square-foot apartment, and have 2.28 children -- is wildly unjust and tyrannical.

So far so good.  But (hey Rocky! watch the nerdy professor pull a rabbit from his hat!) the usual story continues in the following way. Here I want only to set out the abstract argument.  Over the next few weeks, I'll try putting it to work on concrete policy issues.

It's not enough to stop handicapping some runners and privileging others.  Equality of opportunity seems to depend on some version of equality of starting points.  If the son of J. Paul Getty starts life with millions and goes to a fabulous school, and you start life in Watts and go to a "school" that is mostly about social control, it's worse than facetious to say, "okay, the two of you now should run the race; ready, set, go!"  Yes, it's possible that you'll beat out the wealthy kid.  But those of us who are standing on the sidelines betting will require pretty long odds to take you.  Head starts in the race aren't fair, either.

Equality of starting points can't literally mean identity of starting points, for the same reason that equality of outcomes is repulsive.  No one in his right mind should want to homogenize schools, communities, and the like, and anyway it's impossible.  So in the usual story line, which I'm mechanically following -- and which you are obviously free to challenge -- the best interpretation of equality of starting points is setting some decent minimum or floor below which no one may fall.  There's endless room for disputes in various domains about where that floor is.  But I'll 'fess up:  it seems to me we're not meeting it.  We pay lip service to equality of opportunity, and it's an invaluable ideal -- it's hard to know how even to challenge it, though again, be my guest if you'd like to -- but once you see that it requires more than getting rid of the rules that benefitted Lord Grey and harmed Marc-Antoine Calas, once you see that it requires some version of equality of starting points, you realize we have a long way to go.

December 10, 2004

true confessions & cesspool alert

Don Herzog: December 10, 2004

I've been drily amused by some of (must I emphasize "some of"?) the comments here about what leftists are like.  I do not resent the talented and their accomplishments; I admire them; I am not an egalitarian because of envy, resentment, the grubby desire to destroy superiority when I run into it.  This egalitarian character, or caricature, is fun to read about in von Mises and Rand, but I don't even know anyone like him.

Nor am I a big Hollywood fan.  In fact, I've not watched any movies for twenty years now.  The only TV I've watched in that period is presidential conventions, debates, and election returns.  Much of popular culture, when I do bump into it, appalls me.  Those of you who share the sentiment but adore markets had better not blame Hollywood: they're just responding to consumer demand, right?  Those of you who think I am free to use the off button, or not turn it on in the first place, are obviously right, because that's what I've done:  but you might think about the fact, for it is a fact, that this culture is importantly common.  It affects even those of us who choose to ignore it.  And no, this leftist does not think the state should be in the business of solving this problem.  Nor that if only people were as superior and enlightened as I, they would read Henry James and listen to John Coltrane.

So I can't comment first-hand on either of the movies being "discussed" here. But the "discussion" left me genuinely ill.  Last I saw Pat Buchanan, he was raging on about taking back our culture block by block, and somehow I was sure I wasn't in the "our" he was talking about, even though I suspected we had some common worries.  Now I see he's dived into the cesspool and is happily swimming around.  Shame on him.  And woe is us, if this is what television commentary has come to.

December 13, 2004

don't tax, spend anyway

Don Herzog: December 13, 2004

Why oh why is this administration so bent on flagrantly irresponsible tax cuts?

 “Starve the beast”?  Well, that well-known fountain of leftist propaganda, The Economist, recently reported that in 2002, 2003, and 2004, this administration posted the largest annual percentage increases in real discretionary spending than all but two years (both under LBJ) of the last forty.  And they vigorously rejected the claim that the cause was the war on terrorism.

The extremists doing this are not to be written off as the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, buffoons that no one really takes all that seriously, drummed out of respectable publications and the corridors of power.  No, they travel under the name of Republican president and Republican congress.  I wistfully remember the days when you could count on the GOP for fiscal sanity.  (I've been a deficit hawk forever.)  A serious and seriously right-wing friend of mine already had decided not to vote for Bush.  He didn’t think he could bring himself to vote for Kerry -- until he sat down and read through the most recent budget.

Conservatives have long bemoaned transfer payment programs.  Decades before the New Deal, William Graham Sumner was already thundering that A and B should stop putting their heads together and forcing C to do something for the sake of D.  (Kudos to the Liberty Fund, an outlet that has saved my students lots of money over the years by publishing their beautiful subsidized editions of classical liberal texts, for posting his book online.)  At least C has a voice in a democratic process.

The real problem with these torrential deficits is not that Japan and China might decide to stop buying our bonds and so dislocate the economy, not any arcane calculations about trade deficits and the domestic interest rate.  The real problem is that we are plundering future generations, who have no democratic voice at all.  “Responsible leadership”?  Gag me with a spoon.

December 15, 2004

an incurably ignorant public?

Don Herzog: December 15, 2004

Americans seem clueless about basic political facts.  It's easy to document this in one arena after another, but I'll choose just a couple.  For some thirty years, foreign aid has been under 0.5% of the federal budget (see Table Figure 8 here; LATER THAT DAY: yikes! I really did screw this up, sorry; they are quoting it as %age of GDP, not %age of federal budget; but that won't change anything that matters, given how much of GNP the feds chew up and how small the foreign aid percentage has been for many years; I'll try to take more care next time, promise).  But asked what the facts are, Americans consistently wildly overestimate.  In one December 2001 poll (subscription required), only 2% of respondents correctly said it was under 1%.  22% of respondents figured it was 11-25%; 29% thought it was 26% or more.  More such results are reported here, including this dubious gem:  64% of respondents in one poll thought foreign aid the "largest area of spending by the federal government."  And including this salutary reminder:  people with graduate degrees were way off the mark, too.

Similarly, in 2000 (go here, register, and enjoy poking around) fewer than 11% of respondents could identify what William Rehnquist does for a living (variable 1449a, though I needed help from the local experts to be sure I was deciphering the data set correctly).  They were questioned from September to December, and endless media coverage of the Florida debacle must have driven up the number from a more feeble baseline.

In a 1920s exchange that would be repeated endlessly, Walter Lippmann argued that "The world we have to deal with politically is out of reach, out of sight, out of mind."  People have to rely on what they're told.  Politics is far away, not of everyday concern, threatening too, and so individuals fall back on stereotypes, codes, comforting blind spots, and the like.  In The Public and Its Problems, which alas seems not to be online, John Dewey made his usual wonderful move, and argued that instead of seeing brute facts of human psychology, we should see contingent social practices.  What kinds of changes, he asked, would make people better informed, more politically intelligent?  Alas, Dewey made the argument in his usual curious dialect, noticed with hilarious derision by Mencken before he turned to his take-no-prisoners attack on Thorstein Veblen.  But it's still a good argument.  Better, surely, than throwing in the towel.

So how could we be smarter?  Here are some baldly peremptory assertions, to kick off discussion.  One:  the news media could and should do much better.  Instead of the more or less constant intensive focus on the day's breaking news, whatever has just changed, they could and should more often set events in context, remind the reader of basic facts, and so on.  And the media is often confused about objectivity.  They should firmly embrace a Weberian conception and dig up facts embarrassing any and all partisan points of view, instead of presenting us with putative experts who disagree and then saying nothing in their own voice.

Two:  political campaigns play to the world according to Lippmann, and the game has become contemptibly  Pavlovian.  Check those focus groups:  which catchphrases will trigger the desired response?  ("It's hard work," "I have a plan," yadayada.)  This helps make us stupider by giving us every reason to tune out.  Little-d democratic politics deserves better.

December 20, 2004

market fundamentalism

Don Herzog: December 20, 2004

Okay, gang, quiz time.  (Look, no moaning.  You're reading a blog written by professors.  What did you expect?)  Identify the authors of these snippets.  Using Google is cheating and will be savagely punished:

  • Vanity drives the struggle for wealth.  The rich want "to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves."
  • Market society is profoundly inegalitarian.  "For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many."
  • There's nothing fair or evenhanded about the role of government in any of this.  The government, "so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at  all."
  • The division of labor is profoundly dehumanizing.  "The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations ... generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become."  Eventually he becomes "incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation [or] of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life."  Instead of abandoning the workers to their "drowsy stupidity," the state ought to supply public education.

Some comments in threads on this blog dutifully recite decades-old and once-plausible right-wing indictments of The Leftist.  This creepy character thinks the state a wonderful engine for designing society from scratch.  He distrusts private initiative and longs for giant bureaucracies to run people's lives for them.  I don't doubt that much of the Western left cozied up to the Soviet Union for much too long, or that you can still find people willing to say nice things about the Khmer Rouge or the glory days of Enver Hoxha's Albania.  But please, people.  We bloggers are not sketching evil cackling capitalists with top hats and watch fobs.  Some of us lefties think markets are great.  I sure do.  Why?

The fundamental point is worked out in the debate about whether state socialism could be economically efficient.  (I'm thinking of von Mises, Lange, Taylor, Knight, and others.)  Decades later, Hayek wrote a profound distillation of the case for markets as vehicles for assembling farflung information that no central planner could conceivably get his hands on.  I'm 100% sold on this case.  And markets have other virtues.  They are wealth-creating devices, and in a world where poverty remains endemic, no one should sneeze at that, no matter what you think about distribution.  And -- a point Murray Rothbard has pressed -- if you get the state out of the business of handing out benefits to vociferous firms, they actually have to compete with each other instead of rent-seeking.  There are yet more virtues of markets, which I'm sure readers here can and will produce, but in the meantime, let's continue the quiz:  who wrote this?

  • "The cruellest of our revenue laws, I will venture to affirm, are mild and gentle, in comparison of some of those which the clamour of our merchants and manufacturers has extorted from the legislature, for the support of their own absurd and oppressive monopolies.  Like the laws of Draco, these laws may be said to be written all in blood."  The state should be wary in responding to these capitalists, because they "have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the publick."

Now there's a huge literature debating when or whether markets fail -- will they provide public goods? and because of network effects and the like, will they create monopolies not disciplined by the threat of entry?  And then there are questions about whether the state can improve on even failed markets.  Leave that stuff aside.  The real question, I think, is:  what are the proper boundaries to the market?  What do we want to buy and sell, and what do we want to allocate in other ways?

Once we bought and sold people.  Slavery is one way to have a market in labor, and we rejected it.  Now employers can purchase your labor, but not you.  Richard Posner has proposed buying and selling babies, or "parental rights," to get rid of those noxious queues at adoption agencies:  most of us flinch, even though he's got to be basically right about the queues.  The state assigns each adult citizen the nontransferable right to cast one vote.  We could have a market in votes:  the state could assign initial property rights by mailing you a coupon that says, "bearer has the right to cast one vote."  You could "consume" your property by casting the vote yourself; you could donate the coupon to the political charity of your choice; you could sell it to Ross Perot.  But we reject any such market, and we don't budge when an economist observes that prohibiting free transfer generates deadweight loss.  Citizenship itself isn't for sale.  The usual way to get it is by being born here, which has nothing to do with merit or accomplishment or hard work or consumer demand.  Fans of the Boston Red Sox had to wait for their team to win the right games at the right times to win the World Series; they couldn't pool together and raise enough money to buy the title from the Yankees.

The list of nonmarket goods is awfully long and wonderfully diverse.  A liberal society isn't just a free market underwritten by a night-watchman state.  It has lots of different institutions -- churches, universities, clubs, you name it.  Market fundamentalists, as I'll cheerfully dub them, want to envision all of society in the market's image.  There are other kinds of fundamentalists out there.  A certain kind of participatory democrat wants all of society to be run democratically:  she'll demand, why don't workers get to make decisions at firms? and why should the Roman Catholic Church be so hierarchical?  Christians have occasionally suggested that all of society should run on an ethic of brotherly love.  And so on.

We should reject all these fundamentalisms, and instead respect the idea of boundaries between different social settings. (That's not the same as maintaining whatever the current boundaries are.  When the state ditches slavery or makes sexual harassment actionable, it redraws the boundaries of the market.)  And we should reject the view that whatever the state does is coercive, and whatever society or the market does is voluntary.  The state can write rules that expand our options, and no, not by grabbing and redistributing things that others are entitled to.  The legal rules for writing a will let you do something magical and bestow your property after you're dead.  And social relations can be coercive.  Oh, if you're anxious about your grade, for extra credit you can identify the author of this passage:

  • Labor markets are fundamentally coercive.  Wealthy employers can outlast their workers in the event of disputes.  "It is not ... difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms."

Notice the right-wing complaint that crazed political correctness is silencing people on campuses and elsewhere, even costing them their jobs.  True or false, it sure does depend on the view that you can find coercion outside the state.  Your action isn't voluntary if you had no reasonable alternatives, and it doesn't take a law to deprive you of such alternatives.  Once we wrest free of market fundamentalism, we can see problems with state action and possibilities for it that have nothing to do with market failure, economic inefficiency, regulatory capture, and the like.  And we can see a host of political problems -- controversies over the legitimacy of authority in farflung social domains -- that have nothing to do with the state.

Oh yeah, my quiz.  I'll trust you to grade yourself with the answer key:  every single passage is from Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.  I wonder how many of those energetic young right-wing lobbyists sporting Adam Smith neckties know what he actually says.

December 22, 2004

a Christian nation?

Don Herzog, Herzog: "A Christian Nation?": December 22, 2004

A while ago I wondered what would change if we publicly affirmed that this is a Christian nation.  My dilemma shapes up this way.  I don't want to believe that the people urging that are doing right-wing identity politics, slinging around vacuous slogans; I assume they want concrete policy change, not feel-good gestures.  But on the other side, I don't want to believe that the people urging that are what I'd style extremists who might think, for instance, that a public university could fire me as a faculty member if I couldn't demonstrate that I was a Christian in good standing.  (If there are people who'd do that, I'd argue against them.  Strenuously.  Not just label them extremists.  But hey I'd do that too.  Any port in a storm.)  So I keep looking around for some position that skirts the horns of that dilemma.

And then I found this language from the 2004 Texas Republican party platform:

Christian Nation – The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible. The Party affirms freedom of religion, and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives.
Free Exercise of Religion – The Party believes all Americans have the right to practice their religious faith free from persecution, intimidation, and violence. While recognizing one’s freedom from religion, this recognition should not limit others’ free expression of their religious beliefs. Our Party pledges to exert its influence to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State. We support the right of individuals and state and local governments to display symbols of our faith and heritage. We call on Congress to sanction any country that is guilty of persecuting its citizens because of their religious beliefs.
Religious Institutions – The Party acknowledges that the church is a God–ordained institution with a sphere of authority separate from that of civil government; thus, churches, synagogues and other places of worship, including home Bible study groups, seminaries and similar institutions should not be regulated, controlled, or taxed by any level of civil government, including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. We reclaim freedom of religious expression in public on government property, and freedom from governmental interference.

Now we don't in this country have what political scientists describe as "responsible party government":  this language is manifestly not a concrete set of policy proposals that the Texas GOP pledges to try to pass in the next session.  Obviously much of it is just exhortation about federal policy, and I assume more generally that all party platforms in this country are some mix of what the activists really believe and what they think will appeal to their members and the broader public, spiced heavily with declarations of victory over vanquished party factions.

I don't suppose that the Texas GOP would adore me or my politics.  And their language isn't boilerplate.  (Here's the only mention of Christianity in the 2004 national party platform:  "America is a working example of religious liberty, home to millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of many other faiths who live in harmony and contribute to our culture."  Yes, I suppose they could have included atheists and agnostics, but we're a long way from Texas.  I dug up half a dozen other state GOP platforms and none of them whispered a syllable about Christianity.)  But none of this language makes me shudder or grimace or roll my eyes derisively.  I don't support a blanket exclusion of religion from public or government settings.  (Neither does current first amendment doctrine.)  I think it contemptible to teach American history and pretend Christianity has made no difference, though I also think some people overplay or misunderstand the differences it has made.  But that's just business as usual in the liberal arts, where we try carefully to sort out the merits of competing views.  (When Pat Robertson applauds Jefferson for his "eternal enmity against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," I want to say, wait! Jefferson was talking in part about priestcraft.)  I do worry about the state throwing its weight behind one religion, or religion generally, if that looks like carving the community into first- and second-class citizens.  (So does current doctrine.)  And I think the position that all religious institutions must not be taxed or regulated, no matter what, isn't right, but actually most jurisdictions are pretty hands-off.  So maybe under this proposal the Texas GOP would favor doing some things that I'd strenuously oppose; maybe not.  It's too early to tell on the basis of language this abstract.

I guess I'm still looking for some position that skirts the horns of my dilemma.  And though I fear some of you will think I'm facetious, I really don't want to believe all this talk of Christian America is cheap identity politics.  I'd like to find some concrete policy proposals that reasonable people could disagree about.  I'll keep looking.  Meanwhile, call this a lack-of-progress report.