"We're not talking about rights that were dreamed up by Jerry Falwell," said Judge Kenneth W. Starr, speaking at the annual banquet of the Massachusetts Family Association last Thursday. By those "rights," he meant the protection of marriage and the family in law.
Judge Starr, his toes draped over the front edge of the stage, a pocket Constitution in his hand, and a couple of briefs parked on a nearby lectern, gave a charming, inspired, seemingly offhand lecture on the history of the Constitution and God and marriage -- and reviewed the upcoming Supreme Court hearing of the Pledge of Allegiance case as well. He visited English common law, he quoted Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln (among many others), he cited Supreme Court decisions, cracked jokes (mainly about lawyers), and altogether made you wish you had professors this good in every class in college.
Starr has a client in that Pledge fray, Sandra Banning, the mother of the daughter of Michael Newdow. Newdow, of course, is the atheist who brought suit to prevent his daughter from hearing the words "under God" recited in the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Newdow and Banning were never married. Banning has since become a Christian, and has no problem with "under God," insisting that religious indoctrination takes places at home, not with the utterance of a phrase in school.
"Sandy," Starr said, "is thankful to be able to raise the voice…of a transformed life" in the Pledge case.
Random and discursive as Starr's talk looked to be on the surface, it was in fact a masterful argument for the presence of God -- not only mentioned, but revered -- in the laws, life, and history of the United States. He opened with a quotation from a famous letter of Alexander Hamilton's:
"The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."
Arguments like these, Starr pointed out, were common in the Founders' day. They did not refer to some "nameless First Force," but embodied "a vision of natural rights…that was openly God-focused."
The most famous reference to that open God-focus occurs, of course, in the Declaration of Independence, which attributes the creation of "inalienable rights" to the "Creator." The draft Constitution, thought by critics to contain no such references, is in fact signed, first "by one G. Washington," in "the year of our Lord, 1787."
The Civil War, and the post-Civil War amendments, amounted to a re-birth of the nation, a fact noted first by Lincoln at Gettysburg, and later, more extensively, in his Second Inaugural Address. These documents struck explicitly theological notes, as Starr said, with the phrase "one nation under God" occurring, significantly, in the Gettysburg Address.
So what to make of that phrase's supposed "Cold War" inclusion in the Pledge of Allegiance, ten years after the Pledge was first written into law? It rectified "a drafting error," Starr said, his eyes twinkling behind his famous glasses.
Starr's talk took place against an unavoidably tense background. The Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (that's what the legislature is called hereabouts) will shortly take up the issue of gay marriage. So will the Supreme Judicial Court. The Massachusetts Family Institute, illegally rebuffed in its attempt to have a Protection of Marriage amendment considered in constitutional convention last year, has this year fielded a similar, but simpler law. This law, "which we affectionately call the Ma and Pa," according to MFI President Ron Crews, is officially titled the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment. A state Constitutional Convention, called for November 12, should be compelled to consider it.
It's no secret that the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts' House and Senate delegations are Democratic, and beholden to liberal interests. Gay marriage, coming up here in the legislature and the courts shortly before the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential primary, may well be launched into national popular debate from this state.
The traditional family may well lose here.
"We are enjoined to be of good cheer…and give witness with excellence to our beliefs," said Judge Starr. Ron Crews and MFI are certainly doing their job. As Crews noted in his opening talk, MFI has become "the primary media contact concerning the marriage debate here in Massachusetts. I got a call at seven this morning from NPR." Crews and MFI director of public policy Evelyn Reilly have appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Fox News with Shephard Smith, "and even BBC News."
Will lobbying alone be enough? Judge Starr was asked how citizens could pressure the Senate to confirm President Bush's judicial nominees. The same question applies to the defense of the family in the legislative arena.
Starr noted that politicians vote with those whom they fear. "Make them fear you," he told his questioner. Then he added, with the famous twinkle, "I say this lovingly."
I was standing right behind that questioner. When Judge Starr said, of politicians, "Make them fear you," he was looking, as it were, right at me. He meant every word.
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