Thursday, October 23, 2008

Things that make you go Hmmm… (Election 2008 13 days away)

From today’s daily quote service:

October 23, 2008 Quote of the Day

"There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do." – Freya Stark

About Freya Stark
French-Anglo travel writer Freya Stark was one of the first Western women to see the deserts of the Middle East. She was born in 1893 in Paris and spent her childhood split between her father's family home in England and her mother's in Italy. Her first book, Valley of the Assassins, brought her grants to continue her travels. She focused on remote areas of Turkey and the Middle East, seeking cultures that the modern world had not yet altered. She died in 1993 at age 100.



“…One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…”

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”


Florida Constitution, SECTION 2. Basic rights.--All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess and protect property…”

SECTION 23. Right of privacy.--Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life except as otherwise provided herein….

Fla. Stat. 877.19 Hate Crimes Reporting Act.-- (2) ACQUISITION AND PUBLICATION OF DATA.--The Governor, through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, shall collect and disseminate data on incidents of criminal acts that evidence prejudice based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin.


"So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12 RSV

"And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them." Luke 6:31 RSV

Mat 22:35 (NRSV)... and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.36. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"37. He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38. This is the greatest and first commandment.39. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Mark 12:28 [NRSV] One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" 29. Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30. you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31. The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32. Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; 33. and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'--this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34. When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.


What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. - Talmud, Shabbat 3id


Florida Marriage Protection Amendment (2)

"Inasmuch as a marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."

What effect will it have is passed?

If passed, the amendment will ban all recognition and benefits for unmarried couples, straight and gay. It will block civil unions, domestic partnership and repeal existing protections and family benefits relied upon by millions of Floridians.

The amendment would have an especially harsh impact on Florida''s large senior population, many of whom form domestic partnerships rather than remarry after they are widowed in order not to risk losing essential benefits.

Same-sex couples, who are already denied the right to marry by law, would now be denied the right to any kind of meaningful legal protection. The vague language in the amendment, "the substantial equivalent thereof", will plunge Florida into lawsuits, much as has happened in other states. In every instance around the country, those behind these amendments immediately seek to have it interpreted in the most restrictive way possible for all unmarried people.

(SOURCE: No on Amendment 2 Website)


I noted in a previous blog the following:

Einstein often argued that “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” He recognized the impossibility of pursuing mutually exclusive goals. In the same vein, one cannot simultaneously support legislation that discriminates against a designated group of people and insist that one is not a bigot. The actions speak louder than the words.

Perhaps Freya Stark says it more concisely and pointedly this day:

"There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do."

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Letting Other People Be Other People

There is an excellent interview with former priest turned writer and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll in today’s Buzzflash. The interview focuses on the making of his book Constantine’s Sword into a documentary soon to be released. But along the way, he makes several pointed comments I’d like to consider.

His first comments concern his role as what he calls “a critical Catholic,” a description with which I strongly resonate:

Christianity, including Catholicism, is ambiguous and ambivalent - working for peace and justice on the one hand (The Catholic Church is the largest NGO in the world, doing good without strings attached all over the world), and reinforcing chauvinistic and imperialist attitudes on the other (Christians have sponsored some of the most violent wars in history, and the Church did too little to oppose Hitler). But this ambivalence is true of every religion - and every human institution for that matter. (America is a militarist empire and a source of liberal democracy both.) Indeed, such ambivalence characterizes every person. None of us is pure. I value my religious tradition most for the way it includes principles of its own self-criticism. If I am a critical Catholic, it is because the Church has taught me to be that way.

Christians who are not critical of their own faith traditions merit the less than charitable description some of my more cynical undergrads use to describe them: sheep. This is hardly to suggest that we should denigrate people of faith who are fervent in their beliefs and devout in their practice. It’s simply to suggest that an uncritical faith is also a blind faith. And blindness in regards to institutions with enormous power and influence historically is dangerous.

The line that struck me in this segment, however, is the reminder that “[n]one of us is pure...this ambivalence is true of every religion – and every human institution….Indeed, such ambivalence characterizes every person.” This is an understanding I have come to share with Carroll but only in mid-life. I would assess much of my earlier life as focused on eros as opposed to thanatos, to quote Fromm. I have been willing to see the optimistic half-full glass of human potential while ignoring the shadow that Jung warns of. I have assessed those Hobbesian and Machiavellian spirits I have encountered as deluded and unwilling to see the whole picture even as I have repressed the evidence of human ambiguity of spirit.

Where I find myself today is coming to grips with my own shadow. One of the things I learned from my juvenile clients is that all of us – including myself – are capable of any of the things they had done, up to and including murder. I found myself declaring this truth aloud one day – “If someone harmed my sweet mother, I’d hunt them down and kill them myself.” I was shocked by the anger and hatred this statement evidenced. It came at a point when my mother was beginning her decline which culminated in her death from cancer two years ago. So, the protectiveness was understandable. But it also forced me to see what the Hobbesians have long preached – that all human beings have a shadow side that must be taken seriously. We're all mixed bags on a good day and thus our institutions will reflect that.

Carroll’s interview also included this line in comments about the fundamentalist Protestant takeover of the US Air Force Academy during the 1990s: “Christian fundamentalists have their rights, too - but not to exert the power of the state to advance their agenda.” This is an important point. It brings into juxtaposition the First Amendment civil liberties both to freely exercise one’s religion as well as to be free from its imposition through state power. That is an essential concern in contexts like the military service which begins with a restricted if not coercive paradigm.

But it’s also important in a broader sense when considering issues like the currently proposed Amendment 2 to the Florida state constitution. Amendment 2 would not only prohibit gay marriages in Florida or the recognition of other states’ gay marriages, it would also prevent any kind of civil unions or recognition of domestic partner benefits. Ironically, while supposedly designed to protect heterosexual privilege in the form of an exclusive definition of marriage, it also would prohibit heterosexual cohabitation rights, most of them involving elderly people who don’t get married because of loss of pension rights, from being recognized.

This is the place where the line is crossed – the imposition of the fundamentalist vision on the populace at large through the aegis of state power. DeTocqueville would have called it the tyranny of the majority. Islamic fundamentalists would simply call it an expectable application of sharia law. Carroll is right here: Christian fundamentalists must have their rights respected but such rights do not extend to the shaping of the whole of society to their narrow visions.

Finally, Carroll observes the following about the perceived need to proselytize:

Believers feel an urge to convert others - and call it God's will - because they are uncertain in what they believe. That is clear in relation to the old Christian impulse to convert Jews - because Jewish rejection of Christian claims is profoundly threatening to Christians. This was an ancient Catholic impulse, and reached a climax with the Crusades. Protestants continued it, with a kind of climax in the missionizing of European colonialism. But in the contemporary world more and more believers recognize that tolerance and mutual respect for others requires an abandonment of assertive convert-making. Let other people be other people.

Here I would take a slight exception to his understanding. It's probably not that easy.

It is my observation that the impulse to evangelize is often the strongest among those whose religious claims are the most extreme and thus the most untenable. The cognitive dissonance theory of Leon Festinger would readily explain that phenomenon: the more one invests themselves publicly in beliefs which run counter to the reality one experiences, the more cognitive dissonance is generated and thus the greater the need to shore up one's belief system.

So, on the one hand, I might question whether this urge to convert others is generically applicable to believers generally or whether it might be more readily applicable to believers whose faith systems lend themselves to insecurity in the face of widespread rejection of their tenets. In other words, the more incredible the belief system, the greater the need to convert others given that the more one can find to affirm one’s beliefs, the easier the beliefs are to maintain.

On the other hand, I wonder if the "believers of the contemporary world" really have the luxury of being as cavalier as Carroll suggests here. Do not misunderstand me: I strongly agree that “tolerance and mutual respect for others requires an abandonment of assertive convert-making.” I am more than happy to share my views and to argue for their acceptance and listen to the views of others. And I am willing to reconsider my views in light of what others offer. But I do not feel the need for others to agree with me to hold the beliefs I find compelling. I do not pretend to have all the answers and readily reject the assertions of those who say they do. And one tenet of my own minimal, informal creed is well represented by Carroll’s restatement of the Golden Rule here: “Let other people be other people.”

But I wonder if it is that easy. It is my observation that many human beings come to religions, particularly conservative versions of them, precisely because they do NOT want to “Let other people be other people.” Such a vision is too airy and roomy for the fundamentalists such as those at the USAF Academy. It doesn’t have enough sharply defined boundaries and corners for folks like my brother and sister-in-law. In short, it simply cannot provide enough security for those who have come to religion for precisely that reason.

The work of Ken Wilber is informative here. Human beings function at various stages of spiritual, ethical and moral development. There is an inclination for people whose primary functioning level is post-conventional to show little patience for those functioning at tribal conventional levels such as fundamentalists. There is a tendency to say to them, “Oh, come on, grow up. I did, you can, too, if you just try.” At some level, I have been guilty of such thinking myself.

But, of course, that’s not how it works. And developmentalists from Kohlberg to Wilber all remind us that lower stages of functioning are absolutely necessary – without growing through them, no one develops to higher stages. And many will come to rest in conventional stages for their primary functioning paradigm.

This is where Carroll’s second point above - “Christian fundamentalists have their rights, too - but not to exert the power of the state to advance their agenda” – is critical. A society which permits its tribal conventional contingent to set the agenda for the entire society is by definition headed for tyranny. While conservative religious leaders should never be forced to perform same-sex marriages if they object on religious grounds, conversely they should not be permitted to enforce their personal objections on an entire state through the power of the state constitution.

If we are to truly “Let other people be other people” we must neither err on the side of leaving conservative religious people no boxes with sharply defined corners and walls in which to find security nor expand their boxes to encompass all of a society. It’s a tough balancing act on a good day.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Protestations of Would-Be Martyrs

An interesting article today in the New York Times, “Using Biology, Not Religion, to Argue Against Same-Sex Marriage”

Patricia and Wesley Galloway could not have children of their own. Yet for them, the essence of marriage is rooted in procreation. “It takes a man and a woman to create children and thus create a family,” Mrs. Galloway, 60, told a legislative panel in Connecticut last year as it was considering a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. …

The Galloways represent one side of a debate that is often charged by undercurrents of bigotry and religious belief. The court’s ruling on Friday went on at length about the history of discrimination against gay people. While they are Christians, the Galloways say they refuse to use religion to defend their view of marriage because it just muddies things. And they insist they are accepting of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

By protecting heterosexual marriage, what “we’re trying to do is protect the foundation of society,” Mrs. Galloway, a volunteer worker from Trumbull, Conn., said in a telephone interview on Saturday. Everyone who disagrees is automatically labeled a right-wing bigot,” she said. Her husband added, “How can you be a bigot when you’re looking out for society as a whole?”

Surely it is not surprising that a heterosexual couple with a strong sense of failure to meet what they see as an obligation to reproduce based in both religious as well as cultural pressures would see procreation as the critical element of marriage. The article’s writers did a nice job of recognizing that in their description: “Yet for them, the essence of marriage is rooted in procreation.”

That’s the key to understanding this argument: “for them.” But the Galloways are making a rather common error in logic at that point. They are presuming that their own understandings driven by the needs they perceive to exist arising out of their personal circumstances are somehow normative for everyone. Because they cannot have children and feel a particular sense of loss in that regard, somehow this lacuna in their lives becomes the defining aspect of marriage and, in turn, the “foundation of society” generally.

It’s an error in logic I note constantly in the arguments of my undergraduates who sense that somehow their own limited life experience defines reality for everyone. That is particularly true of white middle class students who often fail to recognize the role their numerical prevalence in society and their unrecognized white privilege play in constructing their understandings of reality.

To their credit, the Galloways have refused the easy route to legitimizing their would-be normative vision by placing it in the mind of G-d. Would that so many who share their position were as thoughtful. No doubt, the Galloways may well believe that G-d shares their heterosexist understandings. It’s particularly edifying to believe that G-d shares one’s prejudices. But they refuse to play that trump card and opt for the next best option – nature. The only other option left to them would have been an uncritical deference to tradition.

Of course, the problem is, many marriages don’t produce children for all kinds of reasons. If we take the Galloway’s argument that marriage and families exist primarily if not exclusively for the purpose of procreation of children, the obvious implication for their own marriage would be divorce given its inability to meet the definition they have set for it. If it cannot produce children it has no reason to exist, right?

Obviously such a draconian application would be destructive not only to the individuals involved but to society generally. Many heterosexual marriages produce no children, particularly the marriages of elderly people past child producing years. Clearly, society has an interest in the existence of those marriages. Moreover, some heterosexuals are not called to be parents and responsibly reject the subtle pressures of no doubt well-intentioned but insensitive people like the Galloways to produce and raise children anyway. Society has an interest in the existence of their marriages as well. And the foster homes and police blotters are full of lists of children whose married parents should have listened to their own lives telling them that they were not parental material.

So, the first problem with the Galloway’s argument is that of a rather common but uncritical projection: Our understanding of the world is normative for our society. Everyone either thinks like we do or ought to. And if they don’t we’ll pass laws to force them to abide by our understandings anyway. When the limitations of myopia find enough support to become the tyranny of the majority, discrimination is a predictable result.

The other aspect of the Galloways’ thoughts worth noting is their sensitivity toward being labeled bigots. I find it very interesting that almost to the person, those who advocate heterosexist positions do not want to be responsible for the implications of those understandings. Of course, everyone wants to see themselves in a positive light. Recognizing one’s own prejudices is rarely pain free. And few people know that better than we Southerners who have had to come to grips with our own racism over a lifetime of self-confrontation. But what the Galloways want is essentially to have their heterosexist privilege cake and eat it, too.

Einstein often argued that “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” He recognized the impossibility of pursuing mutually exclusive goals. In the same vein, one cannot simultaneously support legislation that discriminates against a designated group of people and insist that one is not a bigot. The actions speak louder than the words. And assertions that one is “accepting of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation” are revealed as false and self-serving by those actions. Discriminatory acts and accepting attitudes are mutually exclusive.

I do not doubt that the Galloways are decent human beings. I also suspect that they are sincere in their arguments. At some level they honestly believe what they say they do. But sincerity is not the final word in assessing arguments. Credibility is. And when one looks at their arguments in context here – an aging couple sensitive to the perceived duties of child-bearing who see their understandings as normative while refusing to recognize the discriminatory aspects of those understandings – their arguments simply come up less than compelling. Thus, it is not surprising that people like the Galloways who recognize the implicit lack of legitimacy of their position inevitably attempt to shore it up with an uncritical appeal to authority like G-d, nature or tradition.

What the Galloways are attempting to protect here is not marriage itself, it is heterosexual privilege. A social institution that needs protection is an institution based in questionable premises. Laws and amendments to constitutions to protect this privilege will not make heterosexual unions any more stable, it will simply discriminate against non-heterosexuals. And people who discriminate against other people have historically been seen as bigots.

People who testify at public hearings always have a responsibility for the content of their words. And people who would impose their understandings on the public in the form of law always have a responsibility for the impact such laws have on others. While the Galloways and many who share their views may not want that responsibility, they cannot avoid it by painting themselves as martyrs.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

What does resistance to the tyranny of the majority look like?

I lay awake last night pondering the questions the pending passage of Amendment 2 poses for me as a Floridian, tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Getting up from bed, I got my glass of club soda and retreated to my local oracle for help – Typing in the phrase “withdraw from the world” I find a series of sites with varying degrees of insight and craziness. One in particular grabbed my attention:

When people withdraw, often it is the result of either anger toward others for not relating to the individual the way the individual believes that they should, or anger over the failure of the individual to live up to his/her own image/standard set for him- or herself. Both tend to be related to self-pride. Either I "deserve" better than what I received or, I am not what I want others, or myself, to believe about me. In response to the first issue, the person might conclude that no one is good enough, smart enough, etc., to be worthy company and retreat into a fantasy world of revenge and/or acclamation. The second case might result in retreating to a fantasy world where there is no fear of others noticing the shortcomings, or the individual has no shortcomings. Solution -- avoid contact with others in the real world.

Just my luck that I’d find Foresight Counseling, a “Bible based counseling” site, (translation: RUN AWAY!!!!!) in my quest to deal with the ravages of Bible thumpers using the electoral system to impose Bible based burdens on my life and those of many others? Little wonder I found their counsel lacking.

At a basic level, the observation that people withdraw when they find themselves unable to express their anger over what they perceive to be mistreatment is fair. Depression is often the result of anger which cannot be expressed being turned inward. Having spent a good part of my younger life depressed over my inability to deal with coming to grips with my sexuality in the homophobic communities in which I lived, I’m quite familiar with that reality.

But where I take issue with this site's explanation is the apparent presumption that when people sense that they deserve better from others, that claim is by definition unmerited, the manifestation of an unhealthy self-pride – the bogeyman of most conservative Christians. Here is where that presumption is wrong. The targets of discrimination do not have unmerited claims. Claiming the right to be treated fairly in a society whose self-proclaimed foundations are “liberty and justice for all” and expressing anger when such claims are not honored is not a manifestation of pathological pride, it’s righteous indignation. The question is not whether others are good enough for the individual being discriminated against, it’s whether the attitudes and conduct of the discriminators are good enough for their own standards. People who are being wrongfully discriminated against DO deserve better than they are receiving. Indeed, the failure to have enough pride to make such rightful claims would indicate the pathology.

In the May 20, 2008 edition of Christian Century, a review of John Zizioulas’ book Communion and Otherness by Thomas Finger makes an interesting statement:

Authentic personhood, then, is constituted by communal relationships while true communities are constituted by authentic persons.

Indeed. And this then raises a number of questions given the apparent headlong plunge of Florida into constitutionally enshrined homophobia:

1. Can a community be seen as authentic, and thus worthy of the presence of authentic individuals, when it mandates second class citizenship status for some but not for all?

2. What cost to the authentic individual does continued active engagement of communities relegating them to second class status exact?

3. What cost to the community does a failure to live into its own principles exact? What is the cost of inauthenticity?

Finally, at a very basic level, that raises these questions:

4. At what point is withdrawal from unhealthy community the right choice? When do the demands of one’s own conscience and dignity – if not sanity – override the very human need for belonging? When does loyalty to one’s basic dignity mandate withdrawal of consent from communities which fail to honor that dignity? What kind of resistance is thereby mandated?

Assuming the pollsters are right, I am left this day with a number of troubling questions as I consider the coming vote on my status as a Floridian: What might withdrawal mean? What obligations must I continue to honor for my own conscience’s sake and what can I let go of? Do I continue to vote? Do I stop reading the local press? Besides paying my taxes and following the law where it is just, what more do I owe the place in which I reside (noting that when 60% of the populace says you are not welcome, it’s difficult to continue calling it “home.”)?

If I retire behind my green curtain to tend my own garden, as Voltaire suggested in Candide, what does that include? For what might I use my time and energies withdrawn from my former social contract with the state of my birth? What does resistance to the tyranny of the majority look like? And what lessons might the examples of women and people of color in this country provide me?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

Withdrawing for Cause?

This morning’s news is depressing: --

A majority of Florida voters in a new WESH 2 News Mason-Dixon Poll said they plan to vote in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. The amendment will require approval from 60 percent of state voters in order to become law. While the current support level is below that threshold, historical trends suggest it will pass. "In other ballot amendment and initiative votes on gay rights issues taken in other states, undecided voters have generally broken strongly in the direction of the politically incorrect, anti-gay position," Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Managing Director J. Bradford Coker said.

I’ve been hoping that the measure would fall short. It is close both here and in California where a mere majority is required for the same measure on that state’s ballot. I keep hoping that perhaps this time the voters will reject the cheap demagoguery and appeals to their fears that such measures always entail. Maybe this time, the voters will do the right thing, the thing they know deep in their souls to be right.

But I also fear the permission that the darkness of the voting booth provides low consciousness if not overtly xenophobic voters to vent their spleens. As Mr. Coker suggests above, undecided voters often follow their gut, the realm of irrational and uncritically examined instincts. And it is precisely in this realm where Jung’s shadow dwells that the unexamined homophobia needed to pass Amendment 2 in Florida and Amendment 8 in California reside. It’s also the psychic septic tank where the racism of many white voters - operating in the shadow cast by the halo effect which prompts survey respondents to provide socially acceptable answers in public – may well provide the fodder for their decision to vote against Barack Obama despite the fact he is clearly the leader America needs now to take us in a new direction.

The fact this amendment is even close is a far cry from the overwhelming racist response to a proposition on the 1972 ballot in which Florida’s racist voters rose in force to vote through an anti-busing resolution. The measure had been placed on the ballot by Machiavellian conservatives who sought to draw out the racist vote as a means of supporting presidential candidate George Wallace. It worked. Wallace won Florida’s Democratic primary and despite heroic efforts by then-governor Reuben Askew, the anti-busing measure passed by more than 70%.

There’s a part of me that wants to believe that this state I have loved so many years - despite its history of xenophobia - has finally grown up. But here we are, 36 years later and the same kinds of irrational, unexamined arguments are being offered to sacrifice yet one more outgroup to the tribal god of misanthropy. And while I know everyone will not agree with this statement, I do not chalk this up to ignorance. Rather, I believe that deep down, Floridians know it is wrong to amend their constitution to enshrine prejudice and discrimination. We know better even if we have come to believe our own rationalizations and effectively repressed what our consciences are telling us.

The notion that a state would even presume the right to take a vote to single out a portion of its own citizenry for discrimination is ludicrous. Imagine how strange it would be to suggest that we have a statewide vote on banning heterosexuals from being married. It reminds me of the racist ”surveys” that circulated in my high school back in 1967 when the schools finally desegregated: “Do you favor sending the niggers (sic) back to Africa?” The same kind of paternalistic presumption is in place: that the majority somehow has the right to dispose of the minority in its presence.

Alexis de Tocqueville warned against this nearly 200 years ago when he observed in the young America a tendency to engage in what he called the “tyranny of the majority” – the willingness of the majority to use its numerical strength to act at the expense of its minorities. Henry David Thoreau described the problem well in his famous essay on “Civil Disobedience”:

After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is NOT because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? – in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expedience is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, on in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then?

Thoreau was correct. Might can never make right, particularly when that might is used to harm those within one’s society who are politically vulnerable. Indeed, the use of superior electoral strength to harm the politically vulnerable is little more than predatory politics and makes a mockery of the fundamental justice that a true democracy requires.

This is where pollster Coker is wrong above (and his ability to provide objective interpretation of polling data thus drawn into question). A vote on an amendment which will strip rights away from whole classes of human beings is not a failure of political correctness – a rather simplistic explanation at best -and mischaracterizing the vote this way both reveals much about the agenda of the pollster at the same time it does little to elucidate what is actually happening. Rather, the willingness of a majority in a democracy to deprive its resident minority of basic human rights is a failure of that people to live into their own highest standards – of liberty and justice for all.

Indeed, in its most basic sense, political correctness is the imposition of an understanding by force and the repression of any contrary positions. What could be a more classic example of political correctness than a straight, moralistic (though not moral) majority protecting its privilege by imposing the burden of that privilege on a minority unable to defend its most basic human rights – here, the right to have marital relationships legally protected – and placing that burden out of reach of future reformers (assuming Florida will one day grow up) by enshrining it in the state constitution?

Last night in wake of this news Andy and I talked once again about the possibility of becoming expatriates. “We could live in Spain,” he said knowing I cannot tolerate a cold climate and how much I love Spanish culture (and the fact that Spain recognizes same sex marriages). But as I lay awake last night thinking of leaving this home we have just reclaimed after four years of hurricane repairs and the family and friends we love, I just don’t know if I could ever seriously consider leaving Florida even as I find my feelings about my home state shifting from loving it despite its shortcomings to holding its inveterate stupidity and immaturity as a culture in contempt.

So how does one respond to tyranny? Can one withdraw their consent to a social contract in which the government has failed to do its part to protect the rights of all its contractual members? Can one withdraw their support for a government which has become tyrannical without actually leaving the jurisdiction? What does one do with a life of engaging the world as teacher, lawyer and priest in hopes of making this place a better place in the wake of tyranny which relegates you to second class citizenship? Does one turn inward, curtailing one’s involvement with the outside world, letting go of hopes and dreams now dashed by a wave of stupidity and fear? What might resistance to the tyranny of the majority mean?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.