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Letter to a Co-worker (political junkie)
09 Dec

Dear Chris,

I feel lucky that we have been seated by our bosses in such a fashion that we have been able to get to know each other. So this letter, while direct, is being written from caring…

In our last conversation you spoke of states’ rights and how within each state, democracy, regardless of the will of the majority, should rule. You also stated a desire for our leaders to maintain the original thinking of the founding fathers. These postures, as I stated at the time, scare me. And it is because we have become friendly that I have been thinking about how to address them.

Our country has two primary founding documents; The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. With its famous statement of the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Declaration is our national aspiration. The Constitution establishes the structure for lawmaking that we use to attain this aspiration. After heated debate to determine what principles should be employed toward this mission, the founding fathers passed the body of the Constitution comprised of 7 articles created out of compromise and consensus. However, it immediately became clear that majority rule did not suffice to allow the lofty aspirations of a new nation to reach to minorities and those who would dissent. So the Bill of Rights was added almost immediately. Protections for the individual against tyranny of the state (reflecting the will of the majority) were enacted. The founding fathers knew that if majority rule were all that mattered in America, we would become a failed nation.

You also seem to be a firm supporter of Justice Scalia, particularly in his doctrine of interpreting the Constitution using the original intent of the founding fathers. But this, with the respect Justice Scalia is due, is either an uneducated or an arrogant position. Even rudimentary research into the founding fathers’ own words (not interpreted by others) will show that Adams and Jefferson disagreed with each other on the very nature of Democracy. Monroe, Burr, Madison and Hamilton had their disagreements. And Ben Franklin’s speech at the conclusion of the constitutional convention began with, “I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it…” Franklin stated it was a flawed document, but that he was hopeful future generations would administer it wisely. His conclusion? “I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better…” Clearly, claiming to know the mind of the founding fathers, as though they were some monolithic force, lies somewhere between deliberate misrepresentation and delusion.

The only thing they all seemed to agree upon was that their effort could be improved upon. This is why article 5 is there. The founding fathers foresaw the need to keep the Constitution a living document, not an ossified one, with a mechanism for changes to accommodate future mores and needs.

Separately, you have expressed support for allowing people on the no-fly list to buy guns. Your rationale is that because the list isn’t perfect, innocent names are on it, and the rights of those innocent people mustn’t be infringed. At the same time you adamantly support the death penalty even though you acknowledge innocent life is sometimes taken by it. How can the right to guns be stronger than the right to life? This is a loathsome priority to me. It represents a twisted political logic; a supposed morality that I will never abide.

Finally, if you are going to justify your stance by your faith, please be humble enough to acknowledge that every religion sees itself as being ‘correct.’ This means that where differences arise between religious views, either only one can actually be correct (along with the possibility it is not yours) or, that none of the faith based systems are correct. So please understand that anyone of another faith, or of no faith, will see you as using no reliable authority. For me, for example, morality requires a rationale that works for society, wherein individuals of different moralities can act them out so long as they don’t hurt other citizens, not merely faith-based proclamations to which all must adhere. The rational deserves to be clear and in accord with human nature. That’s the only thing we all have in common.

Ultimately I fear that you are conflating your rightful desire to follow your faith with what would, if actualized, be tyranny. This might be startling to hear, but when you speak, your faith-based society allows no place for someone like me, to enjoy in full life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You would have laws imposed on everyone that are inspired by your faith. Your answer, to those who objected to faith based laws enacted by a majority, would be to move elsewhere. But this is exactly the opposite of what the Bill of Rights is for. A minority shouldn’t have to move to enjoy their pursuits…not in a place that is called America.

My desire is for you and I to be able to each follow our respective inner spirits in a community constructed in a way that allowed us to be neighbors. I don’t see why our differences should make that impossible. When you think in terms of community, I wish you would allow for the fact that we have them.

Looking forward to our next lunch,


About the Author

Written by Stephen Taft

I live in New York City, work on Wall Street, and think about justice...all the time.

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