Tuesday, June 9, 2015

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

proponents of so-called "state's rights" in the usa are adamant about the empowerment of the individual states to control what happens within the borders of that state without interference from the federal government.  when the matter at hand was slavery, this theory of constitutional power held that the central government had no power to outlaw slavery within a state without the consent of the voters of that state.  the american civil war was waged over this question.

now there are a range of issues that are pitting the "state's righters" against the federal government.  these include marriage equality, environmental standards, health care generally, and women's health care with regard to abortion.  some of these issues are before the supreme court now, and some of the advocates of the superiority of state control over federal control have put forth the argument that those who disagree with a potential court ruling favoring marriage equality can legally ignore the court's ruling because it is a matter of conscience--god's law (as they see it) trumps human law as interpreted by the supreme court.

what strikes me as odd is that many of those who are so adamant about the rights of individual states are quick to assert state control over individual and local issues.  they see no contradiction when they insist that state power should control a woman's health, requiring tedious and unnecessary medical delays when a woman seeks to end a pregnancy, as if state legislatures are in a better position to make such private individual decisions on behalf of women.  when local communities decide that hydraulic fracking is inappropriate within their city limits, conservative legislatures influenced by powerful energy lobbies have no problem in taking away local control in the same manner they condemn the federal government for imposing national environmental policies on the states.  when town councils or popular city votes create ordinances that protect the rights of gay residents, state's right legislatures see no hypocrisy when they pass state laws taking away the rights of municipalities to pass such ordinances for those who reside in their city limits.

this controversy is as old as the constitution itself.  one of the first challenges to federal authority was a "whisky rebellion" fought against a tax imposed by the new federal government, a rebellion that was quickly put down by president washington.  new england states considered seceding in opposition to the war with mexico early in our history.  one would think that a bloody civil war would have settled the question once and for all, yet it persists.  it seems that we citizens of the usa want it both ways; we want the federal government to exert control when we are in agreement with it, and we want individual states to exert control when a majority of the state's residents disagree with national policy.  we forget that in a democracy, the individual doesn't always prevail; sometimes those with whom we disagree are in the majority, and we are forced to acquiesce to the majority decision, even though we are free to loudly protest that decision.

may we who are residents of the usa remember that compromise is the essence of democracy.  may we all respect the opinions of others, even when we are convinced that those opinions are wrong.  may we argue against those opinions responsibly within the framework of laws which allow democracy to exist.  may we rejoice in our freedom to speak out without fear of retaliation from an oppressive government.  shalom.

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