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Coastal Voices: Look closer at the NCCS

Months ago, when The Daily Triplicate published a story for the local Tea Party announcing that it had booked a Constitution seminar for Crescent City, I was curious to find out about the origins and principles of the National Center for Constitutional Studies that was presenting the seminar.

I was kind of wishing the Triplicate had been similarly curious, as it was printing a news article at the request of local initiators who, it appeared, had not received sufficient response to their own publicity. I propose to offer a little balance by way of information.

I found the NCCS home page and there were the chubby, pink jowls of Glenn (“God spoke to me”) Beck! Turns out, he is the one who now peddles this course and all the other stuff featured at this site. Aha! So this seminar has his brand of “authenticity” for this interpretation of what the Constitution “really means.” Glenn Beck-ons and the Tea Party now knows what to think.

I am sensitive to any threat to the present delicate but definite existence in our Constitution of the separation of church and state, and will not casually regard this seemingly innocent stress on the Glenn Beck version of our government and Constitution. 

It seems that when Beck went shopping for a religion a few years back, he figured that he would choose, in his great wisdom, the one brand he deems suitable for us all — and that was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and that is the basis of this NCCS seminar and to Beck and therefore, to the Tea Party, the last word on the “Constitution.”

The NCCS was founded by Cleon Skousen (1913-2006).  While a professor at BYU, he began the constitution seminars, initially known as the Freeman Institute. He was a politically active Mormon who, as a frequent speaker for the John Birch Society, stood fast with it in its contentions, e.g., that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist agent and that fluoride in the water gives potential access for governmental mind control. 

At this site and elsewhere, Glen Beck pushes the related book “The 5000 Year Leap,” also by Skousen. The promotional ad at the NCCS site shows a list of the chapters and the principles that will be expanded upon in each chapter.  All of it is derived from a Christian/

Mormon perspective, which would effectively render the Constitution a protector of only those who hold the same views.

Key words to pick up on — as they are fundamental to the purpose of the book and the seminars — describe the Constitution and the governance of man in society as derived from “Natural Law,” which is, according to Skousen and the Mormons, “derived from God.” I note the national Tea Party specifically uses this definition of Natural Law as the basis for their Constitution philosophy on its web page of “Mission Statement and Core Values.”

Natural Law, as defined by the NCCS, focuses and interprets the Constitution — and governing man in general — through the lens of (Mormon/Christian) morality,  a concept initially formulated and expressed by Thomas Aquinas.

This would effectively dictate how each of us should live and should think in our society — in the narrowest moralistic terms — and render our First Amendment null and void. It has even been suggested that Thomas Jefferson, according to the current conservative Christian mindset, would be demoted as a foremost founding father for his reference to the need of a “wall of separation” between church and state!

Note that this “Natural Law” is not to be confused with the term as used by American law schools, as I found the term defined at Cornell and Stanford law school sites. There the concept is applied to the Constitution and U.S. law as to the governing of human beings based on “the nature of human beings” and, simply put, uses an ethical base, i.e., a universal overview, to promote the freedom of the individual to conduct himself in society in his “pursuit of happiness” without restraint nor harm from other individuals to his person and property and likewise, inflicting no such restraint nor harm on others. 

I am not quibbling over a small detail here. The distinction between a Constitution viewed through the narrow moral perspective of a religious sect as opposed to the more universal ethically based standard as applied to the functioning of all persons, no matter their religious views, is a vital matter. That Glenn Beck has decided what religion we are to apply to the functioning of our Constitution is absurd. That his congregation unquestioningly swallows this entirely is thoroughly alarming.

After all these years, we still have many who claim that, since the majority of our population is Christian, those tenets and symbols should prevail throughout our government. The Tea Party should come to realize that its claims of “too much government” would also preclude its slant on the Constitution. It has not understood the important distinction between a religion’s morality-based government and one that is ethically based.

We should not mindlessly sign on to a Constitution twisted to fit whatever religion/moral code is currently in the majority. It leads only to the abuse of the rights of all who differ. I maintain that our freedoms are best protected by those ethical values that recognize that an individual should be free to do and believe as he will until and unless he infringes on that ability of any other individual to do the same. 

Celebrate the right to your own religious belief, but keep it to yourself where it properly belongs, thank you.

Sybil Saxelby is a Smith River resident.


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