In the wake of the Senate’s failure to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, conservatives are now coalescing around what amounts to their runner-up option. Various conservative and evangelical Christian organizations are now championing the “We the People Act.” The act would prohibit the Supreme Court and all other federal courts from ruling on the constitutionality of state laws, especially those concerning sexual orientation. If passed by Congress, this act would severely limit some of the most basic legal principles of the Constitution.
The act was introduced in the House of Representatives in November of last year. But it remained dormant while conservatives waited to see how the amendment banning gay marriage played out. With its rejection last month, the act’s principal sponsor in the House, Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, has now resurrected House bill 4379, known as the We the People Act. According to Representative Paul, the act is needed because, “The only way to resolve controversial social issues like abortion and school prayer is to restore respect for state and local governments to adopt policies that reflect the beliefs of the citizens of those jurisdictions.”
Congressman Paul shares the delusional belief of many conservatives that federal judges are undermining democracy by imposing their preferences on state and local governments, especially regarding issues of sexual orientation. In an effort to counter this presumed threat, the We the People Act declares that, “The Supreme Court of the United States and each Federal court shall not adjudicate any claim…related to any issue of sexual practices, orientation or reproduction.” This would essentially allow state legislatures to have immunity from the Constitution when they pass laws regarding sexual orientation. And for all practical purposes, gays and lesbians would loose their constitutional rights.
Evangelicals believe this act is needed to prevent the federal courts from continuing to strike down state laws discriminating against gays and lesbians. They point to the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas as a prime example of activist federal judges who are imposing liberal jurisprudence on state laws. Lawrence v. Texas dealt with two adult men who were arrested for having consensual sex in the privacy of their home. Both men were convicted of violating Texas’ sodomy laws. But in 2003, in a six to three ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws affecting consensual adults were unconstitutional.
The chief proponent of the We the People Act is the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC.) Founded in 1980 by Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, TVC claims to represent the views of more than 43,000 churches. The executive director of the coalition, Andrea Lafferty, worked in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. According to TVC, its mission is “to defend what is morally right.” As such, it’s asking churches to force Congress to vote on the We the People Act. A press release by TVC claims that the act is needed because, “Federal judges have shown themselves to be irresponsible, out-of-control, and politically-motivated in their decisions dealing with marriage, religion, and sexual orientation.”
TVC has a long history of homophobia. A book written by Reverend Shelton entitled The Agenda amounts to a laundry list of old urban myths surrounding homosexuality. The book claims that homosexual activists are attempting to recruit children, undermine traditional marriage, and criminalize any public criticism of homosexual conduct. And it warns that, “The homosexual agenda is an attack on everything our Founding Fathers hoped to give us.”
While it’s troubling that the We the People Act would usurp the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians, the act is actually far more dangerous. It stipulates that the federal courts may not issue any ruling that “interferes” with state legislatures or courts. In effect, the federal courts would be prohibited from ruling on state laws and legal decisions made by state courts. A state’s supreme court would have complete and total legal authority, without regard to the federal courts.
While evangelicals view this as an answer to their prayers (literally), the act would end all constitutional oversight by the federal judiciary. But many of the significant legal achievements since the 1950s, especially regarding civil rights, have been the result of federal courts overturning discriminatory rulings by state courts. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks to national prominence, but it didn’t end segregation on the city’s buses. It was the Supreme Court, which ruled that the city’s municipal bus system was unconstitutional, that did so. This act seeks to prevent similar actions, under the guise of morality.
Congressman Paul has indicated that he intends for Congress to vote on the act by the end of summer. Given the upcoming election, it’s likely that conservative Republicans will use this to rally their base. The GOP seems all too willing lately to trample the constitution as a get-out-the-vote maneuver. Perhaps the name of bill should be changed to the “We the (Evangelical) People Act.”
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americans at War, by Greenwood Press. He writes a blog for the world news web site OrbStandard at: www.orbstandard.com/GGerard.
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