Matters of faith, civil rights and problems of legislating morality

Posted Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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greene There’s a remarkable disconnect among those who complain about racial injustice and, at the same time, express irrational fears of some imaginary theocracy breaking out in the country.

As the discussion took center stage celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we heard little from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s followers other than that his dream remains unfulfilled.

They have complained that the transforming civil rights laws of the 1960s and beyond haven’t solved the problems faced by the nation’s racial and ethnic minorities. Government should do more, they say.

They say this notwithstanding the fact that the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed a constitutional amendment to ensure equal voting rights and then was expanded by no fewer than a dozen more acts of Congress, presidential orders and Supreme Court decisions over the next five decades further ensuring protection against discrimination.

Then there were those proactive laws, upheld by the judicial branch, specifically designed to favor minorities in the workplace and setting up a whole new department of the federal government to enforce them.

Still, government should do more, they say.

Almost anything the passionate advocates of nondiscrimination complain about, from voter suppression to racially biased courtrooms to unequal treatment on the job or hiring prejudices based on race, is all already unlawful.

It was gratifying to hear the president acknowledge the progress that has been made through the legislative process over all those years.

But why do Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Charlie Rangel and even President Obama stand in those hallowed footprints left by MLK at the Lincoln Memorial and echo the charge of unresolved racial inequity and fault government’s failure after half a century of federal intervention to rectify the injustice?

The answer lies in understanding human nature. There has always been prejudice in the hearts of men. It remains so today and will reveal its ugly presence in generations to come.

Government can’t fix that condition. Pass all the laws imaginable and provide severe penalties for those who disobey and in another 50 years the voices of those who succeed Sharpton, Jackson, Rangel and Obama will still repeat their refrain.

Former President George W. Bush is right when he says that government can’t make people love one another. He talked about that reality when explaining the meaning of his compassionate conservative agenda.

He has often been disparaged for those words, especially when he expanded the discussion to advance the hope that faith-based organizations would work toward outcomes that the government could not produce.

Today there seems to be more resistance than ever to public officeholders and those who seek elective office when they speak of their religious faith. It doesn’t take long for reaction to such speech to produce warnings of “legislating morality” and the dangers of theocracy.

Those reactions usually come from the left side of the political spectrum. They are often voiced by the very same people who complain of real and imagined racial discrimination.

They don’t seem to realize that people of faith are among the most committed to the principles of loving one another, treating others as they themselves would like to be treated, not judging others and not discriminating against others who are not like them.

They also must have somehow failed to recognize that protecting “We The People” from the immorality of others has always been practiced as the first duty of our government.

There may be no better example of legislating morality than the litany of nondiscrimination laws cited above — the very laws we again heard declared as insufficient in solving the problem.

People of faith are of no threat to our government. But they do know the way to the fulfillment of MLK’s dreams.

Instead of reacting to their expressions of faith as though they are something to fear, maybe we ought to instead consider the unrelenting practice of living through faith as the only way that man’s natural condition of prejudice will ever be overcome.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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