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Emmaus News

May 1998

Our Reasonable God

The Criminalizing
of Ignorance

Part II - New Hampshire
See Part I

- 1. A Case Study -

A suit was brought in New Hampshire by certain school districts and individuals who held that the then current system of local taxation to support local schools was unconstitutional on the ground that the state had an obligation to ensure a reasonable quality and equality of resources among the school districts.

The Superior Court dismissed the plaintiffs' petition on the grounds that the state constitution did not mandate such equality. 

The case was appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court which, in "Claremont I" (December 1993), reversed the lower court's decision on the grounds that the constitution did indeed make such a mandate. (Claremont was apparently one of the plaintiff school districts.)

The case was remanded back to the Superior Court which again ruled that the then current system was constitutionally adequate.

It was again appealed to the Supreme Court, which again ruled that the then current system was unconstitutional because the property tax system was disproportionate and unreasonable and therefore in violation of the constitution.

Much of the argument (on both sides) was based on the claims

(1) that the NH constitution "imposes a duty on the State to provide a constitutionally adequate education to every educable child and to guarantee adequate funding";

(2) that "In New Hampshire a free public education is, at the very least, an important, substantive right"; and

(3) that "The right to an adequate education mandated by the New Hampshire Constitution is not based on the exclusive needs of a particular individual, but rather is a right held by the public to enforce the State's duty; any citizen has standing to enforce this right". (N.H. Const., pt. 2, art. 83).

Information on this case can be obtained at the website: http://www.mainstream.com/nhpolitics/  Look for Claremont I and II.

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The Claremont decisions illustrate the "criminalizing of ignorance".  The issues are generic to all "government control of education" issues in America today. Other articles on the above website indicate that the Court's decision was either ignorant or dishonest, and a power grab by a court which feels an obligation to run the lives of its citizens. The articles on the site are worth reading and in substantial agreement with this present article.

Governor Shaheen has proposed a bill (on the site), to carry out the mandates of the constitution. Our purpose is not to examine the New Hampshire Constitution, but rather to look at the generic principles of government control of education, using the arguments appealed to in the above case. We are asking whether civil government in fact has a legitimate "compelling interest" in the education of its citizens.

2. Obligations: a Distinction

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence. It is force,
and like fire it is a dangerous tool and a fearful master.

So said George Washington. We have civil government only because we wish to enforce something, at gun point if necessary. Civil government is the coercion of some behavior.

That creates a distinction between those obligations which are rightly enforced at gunpoint and those obligations (such as being polite) which are best left to parental and public persuasion. Civil government, as we said in last month's issue, has no independent "interests" of its own. It can legally represent only those interests which are chosen, under God, by the majority of the citizens.

Few would disagree with the idea that education is a good idea, that children "ought" to be educated, i.e., that God wants His people educated. Few would disagree that an uneducated society will function poorly, and that in particular, a democratic republic requires an educated citizenry in order to maintain its freedom. A functioning democratic republic therefore requires a respect for truth which is to be carried out through the education system, the media, and legislative debate.

The question before us is whether the education of citizens is rightly a government function, a "compelling interest", i.e., to be enforced at gun point, or whether it is a public obligation best left to the citizens themselves.

A statist mentality will always opt for the former. A mentality which understands the very nature of a free people under a limited government will always choose the latter, that education of the people should never, never, never be put in the hands of him who holds the gun. Education of the young should always be left in the hands of their parents and guardians.

The reason for education being left free of government control is, as we have argued before, precisely the same as for keeping government hands off religion. The control of the formation of the minds and souls of citizens must never be in the hands of coercive control.

The secularizing of our culture has left us believing that our moral obligations are defined by civil law -- with the result that we have come to feel that if something is not legally enforced, it has no particular weight or importance as a moral obligation. We have lost the concept that social obligations are first on the people, not on the state, and that the state is only a tool to assist the people in free association to meet those obligations.

Obligations, in other words, do not begin with the state, which then parcels them out to the citizens. They begin with God, who gives them to the people (families, churches, etc.), who then organized the state in such a manner that they can be best fulfilled. The state is the last entity to which obligation applies, and therefore the last entity which has authority to dispense obligations on others. God comes first, the people second, and civil government third in line, thank you.

In a society which has lost its belief in God, civil government will always look like the 1000 pound gorilla because it holds the weapons of coercive force. But in fact, its holding those weapons is precisely why it is put last in line -- so that those weapons will be disciplined under a law higher than itself -- the "chains of the constitution" as one founding father (TJ, I think) put it.

A God-less society will always drift toward a top-down (authoritarian) rather than a bottom-up (democratic) system of civil government. Civil government will replace God -- an idolatry of the most destructive sort. Only under the law of God can a bottom-up government (of, by, and for the people) be sustained. Only under the sovereignty of God can the distinction be maintained in practice between those obligations which should be coercively enforced and those which should be left to public persuasion.

3. "Fundamental Rights" -
Society  vs.  the State

The socialist top-down mentality has been buttressed by the notions of "compelling interest", "overriding interest", and "fundamental right". Each of these has been used in a manner which subverts the freedom of the people.

The Declaration of Independence reference to "unalienable rights" meant our freedom to pursue our lives apart from coercive interference. There was no notion of a "fundamental right" in the sense routinely maintained by courts today -- that all citizens have a fundamental right to an adequate education. (Or to housing, or a free lunch, or any other welfare. Yes, if your children are going to "public" schools, they are on welfare.)

The "unalienable rights" of the Declaration were a notice to government (or anyone else) to keep their hands off. Citizens were to be free to pursue truth and righteousness without interference. As the Declaration states, governments were instituted to protect those rights, not to trample on them through mindless bureaucratic meddling.

But the top-down (socialist, communist, fascist, totalitarian) notion of a fundamental right works in precisely the opposite direction. The '"fundamental right" of citizens to go about their business becomes the "fundamental obligation" of the state to butt in and make it happen. The language of "rights" and of "freedom" is turned around to mean precisely what our founding fathers did not mean, and, more importantly, what God does not mean.

That is the core of the difference between a free people and a "managed" people. It began to sneak into American public thinking when Franklin Delano Roosevelt popularized our "freedom from want, freedom from fear..." etc. Civil government took upon itself the "obligation" to protect our "freedom", not meaning to keep people from intruding on our lives, but itself to do the intruding. "Hello, I'm from the government. I'm here to help you...."

Does God want people educated? Of course. Does God want people free from want? Of course. Are we, the people, obligated to see to those needs? Of course. Does that mean that the coercive force of civil government must intrude? Does it mean that civil government must at gunpoint take money from the public to build schools and coerce attendance in order to educate the ignorant?  No,not at all.

Both the need and the obligation for education certainly exist. But the obligation falls on the people, not on the government. The people have an obligation to educate their children, which is quite different from the government having a "compelling interest". The only role of civil government in such an arrangement is to act as referee in sorting out disagreements, never as a provider/enforcer of services.

Civil government is not the public. We are the public.  The people going about their business are the public.  The state is not society.  Society pre-exists and is independent of civil government.  Society creates civil government to be its referee, and not much beyond that. It can be a provider of services only in certain cases -- strictly limited by the fact that the essence of civil government is coercive force (such as provide protection against enemies at home and abroad).

The primary task of civil government is to keep society open, free, and safe, the arena of public commerce and discussion and debate, and to punish and correct those who violate that openness -- i.e., who violate those "unalienable rights" of others. It is to enforce the rules of civil discourse, especially in matters of legislation, to prevent anyone, including itself, from limiting by deceit or coercion the open market place of ideas and of commerce.

Read the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in that light. You will discover that in every instance, the point was to protect the individual from interference in the legitimate pursuit of his own interests, not in any case whatsoever to justify the intrusion of alleged government interests into the management of our lives.

Each of the complaints against King George was about a serious intrusion. Each of the first ten amendments (Bill of Rights) are about a protection of the citizens against government intrusion. Both the founding fathers and the citizens they so ably represented insisted on a government limited to those functions which are appropriate by nature to an institution of coercive force.

Read the constitution itself, which is a document strikingly designed to facilitate honest and open discussion, free from deceit and coercion. That is its genius.

4. Why Then...?

If all this be so, why then did the Puritans and others begin to pass laws mandating education -- as was the case in Massachusetts, and soon elsewhere?

One can say that in practical fact, government control of education was very limited until the mid-1800's. Almost all education was on the free market "non-system" -- the real public going about educating its youth and itself as individual families, churches, and organizations saw fit. It was a non-system which produced the best educated population in the world.

But the principle of coercion was there, and it is that principle to which our present socialist courts are appealing.

First, it must be said that the Puritans and early Americans made a grievous error. It was no doubt an honest error, hidden by the fact of an almost unanimous spiritual and cultural consensus. Very few colonials were in rebellion against the Biblical framework, and so shared a common notion of what education would mean. So there was little fear that a town-financed school would do their children harm. Even by the time of the War for Independence, the anti-Biblical ideas of the "Enlightenment" had had little effect on America, where the driving force had been the Great Awakening of the early middle 1700's, largely inspired by the preacher, George Whitfield.

It would hardly occur to them that government control of education would be the cause of the loss of the very liberties for which they had migrated and fought, because (strictly against their own better judgments) they came to believe that they had tamed coercive force in government, that our democratic republic would not abuse such power.

That drift was only accelerated when the "Enlightenment" ideas of Godless centralization began to flourish on American soil.

Also, our founding fathers were instruments in the hand of God for very powerful and far-reaching changes. The American venture in freedom was indeed something new under the sun. God was doing something new. So, to expect people under the conditions at the time to come up with a perfect constitutional formation of the principles of liberty under God would be unfair.

Our task is to stand on the shoulders of those creators of a new understanding of our covenant relation with God, to continue sorting out the Biblical principles of civil government, and build on what they brought forth.

"Those creators..." were not merely of the latter 1700's, but the saints of many centuries who picked up and passed on the truth of our freedom under God. And, yes, some secular and pagan folks who, against all odds, caught and expressed a glimpse of that freedom.

5. Public Citizens

So, what does one make of the NH Claremont decisions? The NH Court is in error -- historically, legally, morally, and spiritually. Wittingly or not, it has become an enemy of a democratic republic under God (a democratic republic cannot exist except under God).

We must revisit our own history, our own constitution. We must revisit the arguments and discussions surrounding the formation of America. Inspired by God though it was, the founding of America was not an infallible event, nor is the constitution an inerrent document. It would be as wrong to make an idolatry of America as of any other human institution.

But we are fools indeed if we allow ourselves to be deceived by pseudo-liberals (or pseudo-conservatives) who have no passion for truth, who have given up hope of finding objective truth, and who therefore must resort to deceit and manipulation to gain their ends.

We must become familiar with our history, we must become familiar with Biblical principles, including those of civil government, and most importantly, we must prepare ourselves personally and spiritually to maintain the cause of truth, righteousness, and love publicly and openly in the name of Jesus Christ.

We must recover the ideal of a "limited" government, limited to those enforcements which are appropriate to a referee and to those activities and services which enhance, and do not inhibit, the freedom of the market place of ideas and of goods.

We have learned (one hopes) the hard way that socialism is just a "soft" kind of totalitarianism. But tyranny is no less tyranny because we vote ourselves into it. The end results are the same.  We will not be able to vote ourselves out. 

We must reject being labeled "private citizens", and respond -- "I beg your pardon! I am a public citizen!" The public is not the government, it is all of us citizens going about our business in the public square. It is the business of civil government to protect the freedom and equal access to that public square, not to micro-manage our lives, not to tell us what and how to think. That is none of civil government's business.

A public citizen is one who takes seriously the second Great Commandment -- to love my neighbor just like I love myself -- to find ways to include my neighbor in the goods that God has given me. A public citizen is one who puts the welfare of the neighbors God gives him on a level with his own welfare.

An atomized, privatized citizenry will always be vulnerable to tyranny. Because we have allowed ourselves to be seduced into "private" citizenship, privatized religion, privatized morality, we have therefore become suckers for centralization and concentration of power into the hands of civil government -- precisely what we fought King George to prevent. The colonial army beat King George because they were public citizens under God, not privatized citizens buried in the privatized self-concern of lust and power.

Public citizenship is sustainable only under God. None of us has the internal fortitude over the long run to stay in that vulnerable position of openness and freedom and grace which "going public" requires. Only in the grace of God can we open ourselves to "living in the light" (i.e., in public) where God lives, and into which He calls us.

None of this will happen in any substantial and sustainable way unless we recover our Biblical heritage. And we will not recover our Biblical heritage unless we do what God ever calls us to do -- get down on our knees before Him, seek His face, and repent of our rebellion and sin before Him and before one another. Prayer and repentance has always been the foundation and hallmark of spiritual renewal. It cannot and will not happen otherwise.

So let's get on with it.

Earle Fox

Quote of the Month

"Liberty is an essential principle of man's
constitution, a natural trait which yet reflects
the supernatural One whose image man is, and
who freely created him and the world.  
The growth of virtue and perfecting of being
depends upon free choice, in response to divine
invitation and help, in a cooperative relationship.
Liberty is most truly exercised by living in accord
with truth and is, therefore,
the correlate of responsibility."

- Ellis Sandoz in Philosophical & Religious
Dimension of the American Founding -

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Copyright, Earle Fox 1998