We're not beaten yet!
By Lady Liberty
This is a story, at least in part, of three women. They're separated by years and individual circumstances, but they're tied together by something I don't doubt they'd all prefer they didn't have in common.
Some time ago when we were all much younger, my boyfriend and I often got together with a small group of friends to listen to music, play cards, and have a few drinks. Among that group of friends was a pair of newlyweds who I'll call Bob and Kate (all of the names I'm going to use are fictitious; you'll see why in just a minute). Bob was in college like most of the rest of us were while Kate had only just graduated high school. A sweet, quiet, petite little blonde, she obviously adored her husband.
One night, our usual group was hanging out at Bob and Kate's apartment. Kate was quiet that night, even for her. At one point, while the men were checking out a new stereo system, I took her aside and asked her if she was okay. She promptly burst into tears and went on to tell me that her wonderful husband had been angry with her the other day and had hit her several times with his closed fists. I was horrified. I told Kate that she needed to get out of that apartment and then out of that marriage. She looked at me with her big blue eyes in shock. "But I love him!" she said.
In between then and now, I lived in a big city where my closest friend happened to be a woman I worked with. Late one night, I got a panicked telephone call from Cindy. Through her sobs, I eventually got the story. It seems she'd discovered that her husband, Gary, was having an affair. When she confronted him with what she knew, he was far from ashamed. In fact, he picked her up and threw her against a wall. After the police took Gary away in handcuffs, emergency room doctors found that Cindy had three cracked ribs in addition to various and sundry bruises.
I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and drove to Cindy's house where I spent the night. I helped her collect up Gary's clothes and went with her to deliver them to him where he was staying with "the other woman." I held her while she cried, and despite not liking children, cared for her young daughter for a few days until she was ready to move forward on her own with plans for a new place to live and then a divorce.
The last time I heard from Cindy, she told me that she'd talked with a minister who told her that Jesus didn't want her to get a divorce, and that she and Gary should have another child to heal their marriage. She told me that Gary was going to church, that she knew that Jesus would change him, and that she was prepared to do what Jesus wanted and would try to get pregnant as soon as possible. She also told me that, while she appreciated my help, she wasn't going to talk with me ever again because I wasn't of her faith and was thus of Satan. Before she hung up, she confessed that the minister told her that, too.
More recently, a friend of mine got into an argument with her boyfriend. As the fight escalated, he began breaking things in her home and then moved on to physically attack her. Fortunately, she got him to leave the house before she was seriously injured. I encouraged her to file a police report and to spend the night at my house. She declined to do either.
When I gently asked her if she wasn't just a little afraid he might come back again and pick up where he left off, she told me that she didn't care what he did to her, that she didn't want to live without him. (In fairness to her, those initial comments came from shock and some serious emotional hurt. She's since bucked up well and informed him that she won't be seeing him again unless he agrees to get professional help, a decision I unequivocally support.)
It's relatively easy for someone outside of such circumstances to look dispassionately on the circumstances and suggest what might be the best course of action. It's often considerably less obvious when you're caught up in the situation yourself.
There are those Americans who look at some of the things our country is doing and know that they're essentially wrong. But much like Kate, they're horrified at actually doing anything about it. Instead, they make all sorts of excuses and, even when the excuses run out, will end the debate with an impassioned, "But it's my country, and I love it!"
There are those who would suggest that the War on Terror means that abuses of civil liberties are acceptable. The First Amendment is under active attack from authorities who are infiltrating and surveilling activist groups who happen to represent an opinion contrary to government policy (in one case, the police are accused of taking on actual leadership roles and "directing" protests). Meanwhile, the Fourth Amendment effectively no longer exists as federal officials fight to continue and even broaden electronic surveillance with little or no oversight, and defend provisions of the PATRIOT Act that allow secret searches with no more than a written request.
Thanks to the War on Terror, our traditional rights to travel have been severely abridged up to and including our inclusion on lists of people considered to be a threat. Such lists, of course, might be fine if they weren't both the product of exaggeration and error. Numerous innocent people, including those from allied countries, have either suffered delays or been denied boarding as a result (the one moment of levity in all of this was the day that Senator Ted Kennedy discovered his name was on the list). The problems are only exacerbated when we learn just how difficult (if not outright impossible, unless you're Ted Kennedy) it is to correct any of those mistakes!
The War on Terror has obliterated Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights for those deemed "enemy combatants." At long last, even the Supreme Court determined that the Bush administration had gone too far in its actions when it unilaterally established a tribunal to try those brought to trial. But hundreds of men still languish in cells on Guantanamo with no trial — or even any charges — in sight, and virtually no communication with the outside world. Even the most base of criminals is entitled to hear the charges and the evidence against him (even if, in cases involving national security, the rest of us can't)!
I love this country, too. In fact, I love it enough that I believe abusive behaviors sully what it has been, and what it can be again. Kate should have kicked Bob to the curb. When she didn't, she effectively told him that his behavior was acceptable. The next time he hit her — and there's almost always a next time — he'd have even less restraint because he'd have even less fear for any repercussions. The same thing is true with government abuses. The longer we endure them, the more acceptable they'll become.
There's little question that we have some problems in this country. Some of those problems, we're told, could be solved if only we put religion back into the public squares, our schools, and our government. People from politicians to public officials, and from preachers to some in the general population, say they think the country should "go back" to the principles on which it was founded. What they mean when they say that is that we should be — and behave as — a Christian nation.
It's true that the original colonists of the New World were Christian (albeit of a particularly serious sort). They arrived on our shores because they wanted religious freedom after having been mistreated in Britain as a result of their faith. Unfortunately, the Puritans immediately proceeded to do everything for themselves that they'd so hated in England (in fact, some of the first executions in Massachusetts involved those who happened to adhere to the "wrong" form of Christianity). Recognizing the obvious problems with that attitude, the Founding Fathers deliberately avoided establishing any kind of official religion; George Washington himself wrote (in the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797) that the "United States is in no way founded on the Christian religion."
Those who want the Ten Commandments to be posted everywhere because our system of justice is based on the Ten Commandments are apparently unfamiliar with either. I wrote at some length about this topic a couple of years ago; suffice it to say here that only a couple of the Ten Commandments have any correlation at all in statute law. Those who want creationism taught in schools are, in reality, undermining science education in this country and pushing us still further behind in all-important efforts involving technology development.
Religion is a deeply felt and deeply personal thing. It simply cannot be a mandate. The people who believe that Jesus will solve all of the country's problems are forgetting that there are those who don't feel about Jesus as they do and who, in fact, feel pretty much that way about somebody completely different. Far from offering any kind of a solution, such a position would result in horrific anger and open rifts between those of various faiths. After all, even Christians don't agree on everything since many particulars happen to be based on one sect or another (look no further than birth control, gay marriage, and abortion for examples).
The only place that Jesus is the answer is in the hearts of those who truly think so. If Cindy's husband, Gary, really let his faith in Jesus change him, good for him — and for her, too. But a minister telling her she mustn't divorce a man who seriously hurt her because Jesus doesn't want her to is another story. The one thing I personally believe with a good deal of certainty is that people who truly have faith in Jesus themselves wouldn't try to force Jesus — either by law or through coercion — on anybody else.
One of the things I told my friend after the violent altercation with her boyfriend was that she can't make him change. He has to want to. And before he can want to, he's got to recognize that he actually has a problem that needs changing. Until that happens, he's likely to deal with his anger in the future just like he's dealt with it in the past. Even a good therapist isn't going to put a dent in a head that houses a mind that's absolutely sure it's not the one with the problem!
It's thus imperative that we make sure our politicians know that there are problems and, just as importantly, we have to be sure they know that we know. This sounds obvious, but it's apparently not: Despite knowing there are Congressmen who accept bribes or use drugs, who have the poor judgment to have affairs or speak entirely out of turn, who regularly vote for things that directly contradict their oath to the Constitution, and worse, voters keep re-electing them. Every time we cast a vote for a man or a woman who really has no business representing the vast majority of us who are pretty decent human beings, we tell them that we expect less from them than we do from ourselves. We tell them it's okay that they abuse our trust right along with our rights.
Is it really any wonder that most politicians aren't acting to fix some of the problems so many of us say we perceive? By voting for them after they've done little or nothing to fix the problems before — or, in fact, after they've actually contributed to the cause and the extent of the problems! — we're saying that we don't care, or even that there isn't a problem after all. Is it any wonder, then, that politicians go blithely on their way after the balloting is complete?
I believe that this time, my friend will stand firm. I believe that she's not about to let this man into her house until he sees there's a problem and takes steps to get it corrected. In the same way, I believe that we must all stand firm. If there are problems, they must be acknowledged before there can be any thought of fixing them. And frankly, one of our biggest problems are the politicians themselves. Don't you think it's time we drew our own line in the sand and told them we've had enough of their abusive behavior? I sure do!
I've never been in a relationship with anybody who's hit me. That doesn't mean that I don't know it's wrong. Most of you, like me, have probably not been the object of abuse by the authorities (at least not yet). But that doesn't mean we can't recognize that kind of thing when we see it. The question is what each of us will do about it. Will we be like Kate and make excuses until we're finally beaten senseless — or worse? Will we be like Cindy and grasp at hope but take no other action? Or will we stop weeping and worrying, stand up despite our pain, and say: Enough! Fix it — or get out!
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at
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