Tea Party redux

A recent column about the Tea Party movement got lots of comments, most critical. The essence of my column was that the “Tea Party” is more a protest against the status quo than a unified movement. That is important because I fear that politicians courting the Tea Party will take its support as a mandate, when there is not enough consensus within the group to discern a mandate.

Two of the more intelligent responses challenged my assertions.

One:

You are right in that they are a disparate group on many peripheral issues. They are, however, firmly united in patriotism and pride in country. They universally have a distaste for: (1) an elitism that seems to believe they don’t know what is best for themselves (2) what they consider to be  arrogance on the part of the media establishment and Congress (3) the unkept word of a president who promised openness, but whose party created the all encompassing health reform bill behind closed doors (4) financial policies that are contrary to the way they run their homes and businesses (5) the deafness of a Congress that cannot or will not hear what they are trying to say on most pocketbook issues, and (6) a government that seems to think that it is entitled to any tax it chooses on their wealth.

Two:

As an active Tea Party participant, I can tell you there are at least two common beliefs which are prominent throughout tea party organizations. At the core of the Tea Party movement is confidence in the U.S. Constitution and the beliefs of the Founding Fathers. We see our elected officials ignoring their oaths to “Protect and Defend” the constitution. Instead they expand governmental authority beyond the limits established by the constitution. They distort and pervert the very fundamental principals our country was founded on. A glaring example is the separation of church and state. Our founding fathers understood the formation of our great nation could not have occurred without divine influence. They never intended the radical interpretation that has lead to banishing God from public places and our schools.

The second common trait prevalent thru-out the tea party organization is a strong Conservative thinking. It is a belief in personal freedoms given us by our creator, not given to us by any government. Therefore, we believe government does not have the right to take those freedoms away. Our government abuses it’s authority in its endeavors to expand its size and increase its financial burdens on Americans.

You are correct when you say “there is a growing frustration with the nation’s status quo”. No administration has misled voters with promises for change and then totally ignored those promises more than the current administration. But Tea Party activists are not just dissatisfied with the current administration. They are disenchanted with both political parties as well.

I hope to comment soon on these and other responses.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Tea Party redux

  1. Doug Indeap

    Your commenter’s characterization of the separation of church and state as a distortion and perversion of our nation’s fundamental principles is about as bass-ackwards as it gets. The phrase “separation of church and state” is but a metaphor to describe the underlying principle of the First Amendment and the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution. That the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and later learned otherwise. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to describe one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Indeed, it was only after reaching its conclusion based on a detailed discussion of the historical events leading to the First Amendment that the Court mentioned the letter. The metaphor “separation of church and state” was but a handy catch phrase to describe the upshot of its conclusion.

    Perhaps even more than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    The First Amendment embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

    Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state. I commend it to you. http://www.adl.org/religious_freedom/WFU-Divinity-Joint-Statement.pdf

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