Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Meteor Shining from a Clouded Sky

On this sesquicentennial of a forgotten battle from an increasingly forgotten war, I remember a forgotten soldier.

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

Like so many who have gone before him and have followed since, this Irishman symbolically represents the manly attributes of every great warrior.

Born in the cold winds of County Cork Ireland, March 1828, he would emigrate to America as a young twenty-one year old in search of a future. Settling in Arkansas, he would come to love his adopted home state. Working hard, he obtained employment as a pharmacist and a lawyer. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he unhesitatingly served with the people he had grown to love and in just over a year would be promoted to command of a division. He would see action from Shiloh to Chickamauga and beyond through the end of 1863. His personal success led many to recognize his valor with Robert E Lee calling him  "a meteor shining from a clouded sky".

Sitting in his winter quarters 1863-1864, Cleburne began to spend an inordinate amount of time alone in his tent.

He recognized the state of affairs with his cause and knew it was inevitable that defeat would come. They simply had too few men, too few resources and time was not their friend. So this brave man assembled a remarkable proposal he felt was absolutely necessary if victory was to be had. He proposed arming the slaves, and subsequently giving them their freedom in exchange. Listen to some of his words,

"Our soldiers can see no end to this state of affairs except in our own exhaustion; hence, instead of rising to the occasion, they are sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters which promise no results. In this state of things it is easy to understand why there is a growing belief that some black catastrophe is not far ahead of us, and that unless some extraordinary change is soon made in our condition we must overtake it...
Like past years, 1864 will diminish our ranks by the casualties of war, and what source of repair is there left us?...As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter... It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all.  Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for.  It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.  We have now briefly proposed a plan which we believe will save our country.  It may be imperfect, but in all human probability it would give us our independence.  No objection ought to outweigh it which is not weightier than independence."

Though a dozen officers signed on in support, his proposal was tabled. Too many in the South could not bear the thought of such dramatic change. The political consequences fell on him as he would never be promoted above division commander though he was often the clear choice for it.

For Cleburne, the rejection did not dissuade him from the call of duty. As he increasingly saw his prediction coming true the more determined he became.

In the fall of 1864, the Army of the Tennessee approached Franklin, Tennessee. In a desperate effort, its commander John Bell Hood made what would be a fatal decision for his army and so many of its soldiers. Assembling his commanders on November 30th, angry over what he believed to be cowardice on the part of Cleburne the day before (falsely so), he ordered a massive assault on the heavily fortified Union position. He placed Cleburne directly in the center of what would be a 20,000 man charge--a charge nearly twice the size of Pickett's charge instructing him "go over the main works at all hazards." Not a man to take an accusation of cowardice lightly, Cleburne's last words to Hood before leaving the house were"I will take the enemy's works or fall in the attempt."

Dismounting his horse to share the sober news to his brigade commanders Cleburne recognized the reality that he was going to die that day. Death for him as for all brave soldiers was of less concern than failing in your duty. He told a brigade commander, "If we are to die, Govan, let's die like men."

As the enormous assault was in full swing, Cleburne had his horse shot from under him and asked for another. An officer immediately gave up his steed which itself was promptly shot. Starting out on foot, waving his cap with sword drawn, Cleburne attacked. Fifty yards from the Union lines a single bullet pierced the noble heart of this brave man and he fell with his face to the enemy.

Later in eulogy it was said,

"Where his division defended, no odds broke its line; where it attacked, no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once; and there is the grave of Cleburne"

A century later when General Douglas McArthur was giving his famous speech on "Duty, honor, and country" he described the good soldier,

"The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind."

#patrickcleburne #battleoffranklin

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Earn it

Approximately every three minutes a memory of World War II – its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs – disappears. Yielding to the unalterable process of aging, the veterans who fought and won the great conflict are now mostly in their 90s. They are dying quickly – at the rate of approximately 555 a day, according to US Veterans Administration figures.

They earned it--it's our turn.

"But freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well thought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don't do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free"-Ronald Reagan

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Vanishing Point

When visiting the National Archives, as I was standing in line to view the great documents of the United States I noticed people leaning over very close to the glass. Is it that bad? I thought. As the line moved I finally got my turn to peer at the Bill of Rights. As I found myself nose to glass I understood.

The documents are fading into oblivion. Congress....shall make no law....closer to the glass I go...regarding what exactly?

Walking away that day I could not help but think that the physical reality of the disappearing Bill of Rights mirrored what was happening in the country. What once was so clear and unchanging was fast becoming faint and distant. How can this be? Let's step back a few years and look at an example.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v City of New London that a government could take personal property and give it to another private owner to further economic development. This was based on the Fifth Amendment that says:

"No person shall [have] private property...taken for public use, without just compensation."

This expansion of the meaning of "public use" to a taking from a private holder and giving to another private holder would have a result as Justice O'Connor said,

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

Many were outraged and pressed their representatives to pass laws to prevent this from happening. I am happy to report that nine years later most states enacted laws that severely inhibited the takings allowed by the Kelo decision.

All's well that ends well--or is it?

What if a majority had NOT been outraged and no state laws were subsequently passed? How would politically weak minorities withstand abuse? The answer is they would not.

Our system of governance was designed for the majority to rule. However, to protect minorities from abuse or a "tyranny of the majority" a Bill of Rights was created. We acknowledged that certain rights should not be trampled on by the simple will of a majority. As Madison said,

"A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party."-Federalist #10
When the Supreme Court is derelict in its duty as it was in Kelo then there no longer remains constitutional protection. The only protection is a majority passing a law reinstating the lost right.

A minority can only gain protection if the majority allows thus turning the purpose of a Bill of Rights on its head.

This same effect has been seen with the First Amendment's religious freedom. When the Court weakened religious freedom as it did in 1990 in Employment Division v Smith (removing the highest level of protection called 'strict scrutiny') the only remedy was the majority passing a law (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to reinvigorate that right.

Unfortunately, that leaves those with strong religious convictions, including committed Christians at the mercy of the majority. Make no mistake--Christians who are serious about their faith, and not simply cultural or familial Christians, are in a minority. Though about 75% of Americans claim the name of Christ the number who are committed are much less. Consider this information from the Pew Forum on religion:

"Most Americans also have a non-dogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion. For instance, more than two-thirds of adults affiliated with a religious tradition agree that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, a pattern that occurs in nearly all traditions. "

Also consider a recent extensive Ligonier poll across America:

"This survey reveals theological confusion, as well as a blatant attitude of rejecting what God has revealed of Himself and His will. It also reveals a significant amount of theological ignorance."

All this and more led the Colson Center to recently proclaim:

"It’s time we recognized we are no longer the “moral majority” and embrace our identity as the 'missional minority.' "

If a majority were to appear in opposition to a sincerely held religious belief  the Bill of Rights would sadly provide limited protection. Only if the majority were to choose to grant an exemption would protection likely be granted.

A mere 11 years ago in 2003 a number of states had laws banning sodomy. That was overturned that year in a case called Lawrence v Texas. Justice Scalia warned that state laws against same-sex marriage would not prove sustainable as a result of that decision but Justice O'Connor disagreed saying that laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would pass constitutional muster.

Oh how quickly things can change!

Scalia is proved prescient as we stand on the cusp of the Courts mandating gay marriage to all 50 states. With marriage laws being pervasive in our system if this occurs a host of legal attacks will happen against those in the minority who are unbending in their convictions. Even now we have witnessed the beginning of these assaults.

In 2013 in Elane Photography v. Willock a photographer who declined to photograph a gay marriage was fined $6,637.94. One of the justices on the New Mexico Supreme Court said "the Huguenins 'now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,' adding “it is the price of citizenship.” On April 7, 2014 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case thus letting the judgement stand.

The gas, temperature and humidity controlled enclosure around the Bill of Rights cannot erase the damage already done nor completely stop the effects of time. It is slowly, inexorably vanishing.

Are our rights also approaching the vanishing point?