Monday, August 30, 2010


I've worked with gravity and with music all my life.  In that sense I believe I'm fairly well rounded.  This isn't to say that I'm a lawyer.

The US was founded on Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which asserts that "all men are created equal."  However, that foundational concept was by no means written into the US Constitution.  In the latter document, which is the foundation of our legal structure and our government, many caveats are added to the basic principle that all men are created equal.

After the Civil War, Amendments were added to the Constitution.  This was a reasonable and good thing to do to try to codify some of the implications of the cataclysm which nearly destroyed the country, and did destroy so many American lives.  The first ten amendments were of course added shortly after the Constitution was ratified.  Among these Civil War tempered amendments was the 14th, which says, among other things, that the very simple absolute fact of birth confers American citizenship with all its rights and responsibilities upon any person so born in the US.  This Amendment essentially includes the principle Jefferson stated in the Declaration-- that all men are created equal-- in the Constitution, at least where the Constitution is valid--namely, within the boundaries of the United States.  (One could view the Declaration as a universal manifesto of human rights needless to say.)

It is thus no accident that Brown Versus Board of Education is grounded in the 14th Amendment.  Even after many years of legal segregation, the foundation of the 14th Amendment shone through to the Supreme Court of 1954-55.  It is also no accident that the forces of a radical conservatism currently rankled by the fact of an African-American President--forces who seem to believe Mr. Obama is some sort of dangerous radical despite every indication to the contrary (including many serious criticisms of Mr. Obama from the Left)--these forces now work towards the goal of changing the 14th Amendment.

The thing about the birth clause in the 14th Amendment is, it's simple.  Just like the basic statement in the Declaration of Independence. All Men Are Created Equal.  If you're born in the US, you are a citizen.  There is a fundamental clarity that comes with this simplicity.  This clarity was strong enough to overturn a system of segregation which had previously been acceptable to the Supreme Court despite it's obvious evil effects on black American citizens.  The Federal Government colluded with various states not only to segregate schools and private businesses, but to disenfranchise black citizens and render them second-class citizens in any number of ways.  It is no exaggeration to say that the Segregated United States was a veritable Titanic of a Ship of State, and that the 14th Amendment was its Iceberg.

It strikes me that these current efforts to "do something" about the 14th Amendment are symptomatic--they point to dangerous goals which radical conservatives keep very close and mostly hidden, or at least hidden from the general public.  If the simplicity and the strength of the birth clause is replaced with some complicated set of rules and regulations, something very important--possibly even irreplaceable--is lost.  Or gained, if you're a radical conservative.  Just go back to the original Constitution and you'll see what I mean.

In that document, Americans are numerically defined, and only a relative few Americans are even allowed to vote.  Indeed, not even the 14th Amendment conferred the vote on women!  That took yet another Amendment, and that Amendment, too, is under attack in some quarters--see, e.g., the Southern Baptist Conventions resolutions on the "submission" of women.  The Right Reverend Land spoke at the Beck rally on Saturday, as did this guy:

I don't mean, of course, that Southern Baptists or even the Southern Baptist Convention wish to repeal the Amendment giving women the right to vote.  Rather, I suggest that a doctrine which asserts that at least wives must be submissive to their husbands could be understood to imply that a "good wife" should enter the voting booth with her husband, and vote as he directs.  

All men are created equal is the beautiful breath of melody upon which the revolutionaries of 1776 set sail.  Men, in this usage, means human beings.  The Constitution, including the 14th Amendment, is the foundation upon which the great house we all live in rests today. Some of its cornerstones are mortared in the blood of the War Between the States. 

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