Some days ago I came across a snidely gloating article in the Guardian newspaper headlined “Satanists plan statue to stand alongside Ten Commandments in Oklahoma.” The article’s explanatory subhead read “A decision to erect a Christian monument outside the statehouse could backfire as Satanists demand religious parity.”
Bobby Cleveland, a Republican representative in the Oklahoma legislature dismissed the Satanists’ demand. “I think these Satanists are a different group,” Cleveland said. “You put them under the nut category.”
As I read this response I couldn’t help but see it as an example of the tragic consequences connected with the fact that American politicians are out of touch with the common sense morality that was once characteristic of Americans. Take, for example the argument Abraham Lincoln made against Stephen Douglas in their famous debates:
He [Douglas] insists that, upon the score of equality, the owners of slaves and owners of property – of horses and every other sort of property should be alike and hold them alike in a new Territory. That is perfectly logical, if the two species of property are alike and are equally founded in right. But if you admit that one of them is wrong,
you cannot institute any equality between right and wrong (Oct.7, 1858, Debate at Galesburg, Ill.)
When Judge Douglas says that whoever, or whatever community, wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong. (October 13, 1858 Debate at Quincy, Illinois)
Lincoln relies upon the connection between having rights and doing what is right. He recognizes, as the logical consequence of that connection, that it makes no sense to say that “anybody has a right to do wrong.”
Tragically, these days even well-intentioned Americans, anxious to respect and preserve the moral heritage of our country, have learned to forget this common sense reasoning. For years, and at the highest levels (like FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech) we have accepted the facile equation of rights and freedom. Yet when someone abuses their freedom (i.e., their capacity to act without hindrance) in order to defraud, rob, rape, murder or forcibly enslave another, who denies that it is an essential function of law to apprehend and punish them, and in other ways (by moral education, for instance) to prevent and discourage such actions.
The American Declaration of Independence makes it clear that the fundamental purpose of government is to secure God-endowed unalienable rights. Thus the Declaration not only confirms the connection between right and rights, it recognizes the authority of the Creator God as the substantiating authority which determines the substance of right. This means that, when dealing with different or opposing claims of right, those responsible for wielding the powers of government must observe the distinction between right and wrong, as substantiated by the authority of the Creator God.
The people of the United States, and of all the States respectively, derive their claim to constitutional self-government from the logic of right and rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence. This claim logically depends on the existence and authority of the Creator, nature’s God, the source and author of all true laws, including the laws of nature.
When Satanists pretend to assert an equal right to use public property to promote whom they worship, their claim has to be judged in light of that authority. But who is Satan? He is the adversary of God, the one who wars without let or hindrance against God’s authority.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with the observation that one man’s right to swing his fist ends where another man’s nose begins. It has become a maxim of Constitutional law, as well as common sense, that one has no one has the right to raise a false alarm of fire in a crowded theater. Thus both individual and public right may logically supersede this or that exercise of freedom.
Is there a public right more fundamental to the people of the United States than their right to live under governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”? If the authority of the Creator God is the primordial premise of the logic which justifies this claim of right, doesn’t the use of public resources (including real estate) to disparage and undermine that authority strike a blow at the very foundation of public liberty in the United States? Doesn’t the claim of Satanists to “religious parity” end where that fundamental public right begins?
In order to protect the exercise of political and religious liberty from noxious government interference, it may be prudent to allow this denial as a matter of private action, privately supported and carried out. But is it consistent with the public good to use public property or other resources to exalt and honor the character of Satan? His whole identity consists in opposition to the authority of the Creator, the authority that substantiates the understanding of right and government that is the archetype of the people’s common good.
The representatives of the people, in Oklahoma and every other State, and in the U.S. Congress as well, have the perfect right, in fact the sworn duty, to distinguish between government actions that support and promote the foundation of the Constitution they are sworn to uphold, and those that disparage and weaken it. Far from being required to institute “any equality between right and wrong” they have a sworn duty to secure right against wrong, and to discriminate, on public grounds, against any who exalt and encourage wrongdoing, including the primordial wrongdoing Satan represents.