Saturday, May 8, 2010

Signing Statements in American History: A Case Study of the Inappropriate Application of Executive Power

Signing Statements in American History: A Case Study of the Inappropriate Application of Executive Power

Jay Bates

Presidential signing statements originate in a requirement within Article I, Section VII of the United States Constitution which states the following: "Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it."  The President is expressly commanded by the Constitution to include his objections to any vetoed bill when he returns that bill to Congress for reconsideration.  The Constitution provides not for a signing statement, but a listing of objections that clarify why the President felt the bill in question should be vetoed rather than signed into law.  
This stipulation was honored until the administration of James Monroe, the fifth president.  Monroe decided that he was afforded the power to indicate his disagreement with Congressional prerogatives on the matter of presidential appointment of officers.  Congress had mandated a reduction in the size of the military and authored guidelines for the presidential appointment of military officers. Monroe signed the bill into law and then decided a month later to issue a statement declaring that the power to appoint officers in the military was exclusively reserved to the Executive Branch.  

He was wrong.  Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states: "
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments."  At the very least, the Senate must advise and consent on the appointment of officials in any arena.  Furthermore, the Constitution speaks to an explicit role the Congress holds in the military in Section 8 of Article I: Congress shall have the power to: 

"To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."  

The power to make rules for the regulation and governance of the land and sea forces of the United States lies with the Congress.  The Congress may delegate out the power to appoint said officers to the President within parameters that they establish, and they did so.  Monroe didn't agree with their actions, but he signed the bill into law rather than vetoing.  He then usurped a power for himself that is not given to the President by the Constitution when he issued a signing statement in effect declaring a portion of the bill that he had ushered into law with his signature unconstitutional.  The President does not declare laws unconstitutional in whole or in part.  

That is the purview of the judicial branch under Article III Section II.  "The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make."   

The judicial review of Executive and Legislative Branch actions is not explicitly stated in Article III Section 2, but it is implicit, and the final sentence is the true measurement of judicial review authenticity.  Congress provided for an explicit power of judicial review of legislative and executive actions to enable the judicial branch to measure its actions and those of its executive counterpart against the Constitution when the Judiciary Act of 1789.  Furthermore, the principle of judicial review was not entirely without precedent in prior history at the time it was first asserted (in Marbury v. Madison), given that Privy Councils had reviewed colonial legislation against the standards of colonial charters and state courts had  done the same with statutes measured against the requirements spelled out by state constitutions.  

President Monroe exercised a power he did not possess under the Constitution in order to claim powers for his office that were reserved for the other two branches of our government.  Tragically, this error was not challenged at the time it originated, and thus came to be accepted over time as a legitimate exercise of executive prerogative.  Signing statements have come to be a symbol of everything that is wrong with executive power in the years that have passed since Monroe's initial overreach.  

A president may use signing statements to eviscerate the laws that he signs and effectively rule by fiat of interpretation as opposed to being bound by the law to faithfully execute it as it is written.  If a president disagrees with a bill that comes across his desk, the Constitution clearly instructs him to veto it and send it back with his objections to the Congress.  He does not have the power to interpret the law, he merely possesses the burden of executing it as it is written.  If he feels that the law is inappropriate or unconstitutional, he is to veto it.  He is not to sign it and then indicate that he will enforce it according to his own peculiar interpretation in order to render it constitutional in application even though it is unconstitutional as written.  

Today we face the consequences of executive abuse in the form of two ruinous wars and economic catastrophe. It is this task that I as a citizen charge our President with: to renounce signing statements and request that Congress once and forever prohibit signing statements by outlawing them explicitly through federal law.  This should not be necessary, owing to the fact that there is no power given by the Constitution for signing statements, but due to years of errant precedent, it is vital to the survival of our republic that we end the signing statement as a reality once and for all.  

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Libertarian Outlook: Sunshine, Rainbows, and Reality

A Libertarian Outlook: Sunshine, Rainbows, and Reality

On the libertarian side of the spectrum, I’ve found a philosophical home even though a good many of my personal beliefs are deeply conservative.  I’m inclined to disdain a good bit of what I see on television as being lurid, titillating, and downright obscene at times.  Perhaps I’m a bit quaint, but I have serious objections to what passes as entertainment nowadays.  

I’ve never been inclined towards a prudish outlook.  My own pornography collection in college and immediately afterward was quite extensive.  My love life has been the object of much lamentation on the part of my parents and old associates.  I’ve enjoyed myself liberally with women, wine, and song.  But that was my early adult life, and I’ve since arrived at the conclusion that perhaps traditional morality is best.  And that’s the point I make to both sides, whether libertarian or conservative.  I arrived at the conclusion after my own experiences and decisions.  

I’m a married man in a monogamous relationship.  For those of you who wonder what that means, it means the following: 

  1. We eat. 
  2. We sleep.
  3. We watch T.V. 
  4. On rare and special occasions, we might engage in carnal congress. 

All in all, it’s a good gig, if you can get it.  I did.  I love my wife, and I enjoy her company.  She can occasionally annoy the hell out of me, and the feeling is mutual.  We each have our quirks, but none of those quirks, either individually or taken together as a sum, is sufficient to erode our commitment to each other and our marriage.  

I don’t need the government to protect me.  I don’t need laws to provide a deterrent to me.  After years of trial and error, I learned what worked and what didn’t.  I paid for the error of my ways in my own person.  As a result, I no longer do twenty shots of Wild Turkey in the course of a night.  At some level, I learned to savor a good whiskey and a Guinness, and I also realized that excess was for the inexperienced individuals among us.  Youth is wasted on the young, and that’s part of the process of life.  

Society needs laws to provide a process after the fact in case we do things that hurt other people.  The idea that the law is a deterrent is utterly idiotic.  It isn’t.  I drank before I was 21, I did every drug imaginable in every way imaginable save the intravenous route.  I’m phobic of needles.  An irrational phobia was more of a deterrent than any municipal code or statute.  But in the event that I had injured anyone else, the authorities and the government would have been fully justified in arresting, charging, trying, convicting, and ultimately incarcerating me for the harm I did to someone else.  

I don’t sit up nights worrying about what other people do in the privacy of their own homes.  I have other things to do, and besides, if they get out of hand, the law is there for the purposes of outlining what needs to be done.  They’ll likely endure some sort of consequence for their overreach.  

But what’s more, I measure a law’s appeal based on how it will apply to me. If you acknowledge the power of the government to regulate someone else in a certain way, you also acknowledge the inverse: the power of the government to go in the opposite direction.  I don’t want the government telling me what I can or cannot do with my wife.  My wife already tells me that, and I hate it.  Conversely speaking, I don’t support the government regulating the sex lives of other consenting adults.  That’s the key distinction: consenting adults.  

I don’t believe that children or animals are capable of forming consent, and therefore, we can reasonably regulate their sex lives in order to protect them from individuals who would use them as mere objects of sexual gratification.  I’m fine with those statutes that outlaw pederasty and hebophilia.  Is it arbitrary and perhaps even a bit capricious to limit sexual interaction at an age like 18 or 16? Yes.  Am I comfortable with that? As the future father of what will possibly be a daughter, hell yes. I’m also comfortable with the notion of shooting her future boyfriends in the front yard and then murdering any of their family members who object.  

However, I digress.  I don’t like the idea of government saying anything about marriage at all.  I don’t agree with polygamy and bigamy, but, if you want to be married to more than one person at a time, and they consent to the arrangement, so be it.  I don’t think it’ll turn out well, but it’s your consequence to bear.  It’s a matter for adults to sort out, and the government’s only concern is the distribution of property and liabilities in the event of a dissolution.  In point of fact, I’d prefer it if the process of divorce went before mediators or arbitrators, with the entire cost distributed equally among the two (or more) parties involved.  

It’s not that I think that government should legalize or sanction gay marriage; it’s that I don’t think marriage is any of the government’s business whatsoever.  I have a real problem with blood tests for licenses, even though I realize a good many municipalities and states have moved away from such archaic notions, but still.  I don’t like state involvement in a good many things, and marriage is one of those things.  

It is my own deep conviction that personal experience is the best tutor because it is dispassionate.  It makes no exception for anyone.  If you drink too damn much, you’ll have a hangover or alcohol poisoning.  If you smoke, you’re inviting certain risks.  If you do drugs, you might have to battle addiction.  The evidence is already there in abundance.  Any individual who can read or observe human behavior knows what the consequences are likely to be.  

Too much of what government does is a misguided attempt to protect us from ourselves that ultimately spreads the consequence for personal decisions to those individuals who didn’t make bad decisions in the name of mercy.  See the banking bailout or, for that matter, any government bailout of private industry.  You can argue that apocalypse might have occurred had the government not intervened, but the net effect of the government’s most recent intervention is that apocalypse will most certainly occur.  When the $23.5 trillion bubble bursts, the fallout is going to be far greater than the bubble that burst in late 2008.  

Mercy is not exemption from accountability.  Grace is, and grace is the sole purview of the Almighty.  Mercy is appropriate when contrition is shown, as in an individual or entity seeking to atone for their misdeeds by performing some penance.  But mercy is ultimately not what occurs when the government steps into a situation.  Favoritism is what occurs, and when that happens, the law loses all credibility.  A law that is not applied equally to all ceases to be a law.  It becomes a mere arbitrary code, a chaotic statement of relativism dependent upon the mood of the enforcer.  It is not fit for civilized and ordered societies of free men. 

The simple truth is that the banking crisis required two things: a series of bankruptcy proceedings and a series of prosecution for the rampant fraud which was all pervasive in the mortgage industry in the lead up to the crisis.  If you can’t rely on the government to follow the very legal processes it sets up in the event of such eventualities, what use is the government?  It certainly has no efficacy whatsoever as an agent of either the law or justice.  And yes, the two are separate concerns.  Justice entails the equal application of the law, and the law merely concerns a process which is supposed to occur in the event of a specific behavior or action.  When you lack the former, you can’t really count on the efficacy of the latter.  What you can count on is what we have: sheer chaos and corruption.  

Some of the animals in our menagerie are more equal than the others, and everyone knows it.  The secret is out, and it has been out for some time, and as a result, the fabric of our society is being torn asunder.  The government lacks credibility, its agencies and bureaucracies are regarded with suspicion and even hatred, and the nation is coming apart at the seams.  The tie that binds is perishing before our very eyes, and no one seems to know what to do to fix things.  

The government cannot provide morality, but it can do (and has done) everything to undo morality.  The government cannot provide ethics, but it can utterly deracinate the ethical foundations of a society and a culture.  What we have witnessed over the past few decades is utterly extraordinary: a government that has been hell bent on challenging and even eroding traditional values, which emanate from the people.  Far from representing what we believe and cherish almost universally, the government has done everything to challenge and overthrow our notions of what is good, right, and fair in order to replace those notions with notions from a select cadre of elitists.  

Sometimes those elitists have risen from the extreme left, and other times they have arisen from the extreme right.  But regardless of what end of a perceived spectrum they have arisen from, both sides share a deep awareness of and commitment to pragmatism.  Regardless of the costs involved to their fellow man, they care only for winning the day for their ideological extreme.  Ends justify means to these people, and the net result is the yanking of the 80% of Americans who fall in the middle ranges in order to satiate the ideological power lusts of the 10% who fall on either side of the extremes.  

Despite what these individuals purport, they are neither particularly informed nor sophisticated.  They know how to act in a cosmopolitan and snooty manner, how to selectively excerpt facts and statistics to bolster their preexisting notion of how things ought to be, but they are ultimately anti-intellectual when confronted with competing facts, statistics, or with the entirety of the context from which they ripped a select few snippets of truth to bolster their notion of “truthiness.”  When confronted with the full measure of the facts, and required to defend their assertions and viewpoints, the inevitable response of ideologues is to point to some bigotry or moral failing on the part of their opponents that excuses and even justifies playing fast and loose with the truth.  

After all, they’re fighting the enemies of light, those armies of darkness who threaten to overwhelm with the world with centrism.  They have to resort to extreme measures in order to combat the extreme threat presented by such individuals.  And what is that extreme threat?  The notion that individuals are free men and women, making free decisions of their own volition, and that they are and should be accountable for the decisions they make.  

Among extremists, the common ideal is that individuals should not and cannot be left to their own devices to make their own decision.  They require the guidance of the self-crowned enlightened among us.  Anyone who challenges this notion is an agent of sedition to be labeled with various pejoratives.  We are said to be individuals who do not understand human nature, naive people who just don’t get the possible dangers involved in leaving men and women to make their own decisions without government coercion.  

On the contrary, we do get it.  We get it all too well, which is why we don’t believe that any government statute or ordinance is sufficient to overcome or alter human nature.  The nature of a criminal is that he don’t respect the law enough to follow it. Of course, given the application of the law, or its absurdity, he may have cause to disregard it.  I don’t care what the state says about fellatio being sodomy, I like it, and I try diligently to encourage my wife towards that end.  In my home state of Alabama, I am a wanton criminal.  In my own mind, I’m a free man doing what he can to get by and off in the confines of his own home with his wife.  I’ve tried to convince her that we’re striking a blow for justice and freedom, but she isn’t buying fellatio as a means of political protest.  Damned autocratic mindset ought to have her used to a life on her knees, but nonetheless...

We simply see the law as a means of identifying criminal behavior, and the basis for the law being any act which results in harm to another being, whether his life, liberty, person, or property.  We see the law as a means of proscription, and not as a deterrent. We see the law as a means of process, not a guideline for behavior.  Very often the law is a guideline for those individuals seeking to circumvent its spirit by finding the loophone in its letter.  Naivete, if there is any, falls among the attitude of those individuals who rely on the law to produce automatic order and decency in a society.  A frustrated ideologue, whether among the so-called liberal or conservative camps, will often exclaim in irritation that the world would be so much better if this law or that law were passed or followed.  Those of us in the libertarian camp merely smile thinly at such notions.  We have 3.4 million words of law in our tax code alone, and still, we have short revenues and tax evasion and avoidance to boot.  Despite laws and regulations establishing sexual education in schools, ostensibly to promote safer and more responsible sexual behavior, we have an epidemic of sexual irresponsibility and the fruits thereof are blatantly apparent to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.  

I’m inclined to enforce the law as I see fit in my own home.  On a recent night, when my nieces were over to spend the night, we were watching television.  In particular, we were watching the show How I Met Your Mother. It’s entirely okay for adults to watch that show, but when Neil Patrick Harris starts to go into  detail over threesomes, I get off the boat as to the appropriateness of the show for thirteen year old and a nine year old under my supervision.  That is my right and my privilege as the owner of the television and the domicile.  

I’m not saying that CBS should be forced to push their programming to a later hour, or that I shouldn’t be subjected to indecency.  I’m saying I should turn the channel of my own volition to more age appropriate programming.  Decency is an individual standard and an individual choice.  When we abdicate decency to the purview of governments, we have lost any hope for decency to prevail in our society.  Decency and morality begin and end in the home, and not the the government.  Fail in the home, and you will fail in the street and eventually you will fail in the government.  

I do not live my life in sunshine and rainbows, with dragons and unicorns prancing about me as I engage in a battle of good versus evil where black and white are the extent of the color spectrum.  I live in a real world, where evil isn’t always obvious, and temptations are wrapped up in moral language and appeals to my sense of mercy and decency.  I’d invite my ideologically driven friends to join me in that world, but they aren’t prepared to pay the price of admission by shedding their ideologically driven mindsets.  The price of simplistic ideologies and moral conceptualization is the success of evil above all else.  

We’ve argued over gays, sexual education, divorce, poverty, and the role of government where each issue is concerned to no end.  In the meantime, while each extreme has wrestled over control of the government and yanked the nation back and forth with ideologically driven solutions, the problems of the nation have grown exponentially worse.  We’re bankrupt, we’re obese, we’re unhealthy, and nothing is working for us right now.  If you are of the mindset to believe that government is the answer, if only it is held by the right people, you are out of your mind.  The answer is to elect people who will limit the government’s ability to say or do anything about any of the aforementioned issues.  

We’ve thrown gobs of money at these and other problems, only to see them worsen and multiply.  It’s why we’re bankrupt.  It isn’t that we need to cut government spending, either.  You can cut spending temporarily, but it will come back if you don’t remove the underlying authority which gives government the power to regulate the matters at hand.  It’s time to cut the authority of the government drastically, to acknowledge the obvious: government can’t, and won’t, fix these issues. All of the available evidence in its entirety points towards a government with 40 years of deficits, decades of policies with one purported outcome that resulted in the exact opposite, and one corruption scandal after another, combined with one government created economic implosion after another.  Say what you will about the Federal Reserve, and government regulation of the economy, the fact remains that booms and recessions have been remarkably consistent with expansions and contractions of the monetary supply, and contractions and expansions of government regulation.  

You can trace nearly every problem in our society to government mandates and interference in areas previously off limits, from the increased medical expenditures and the regulatory favoring of HMOs utilizing fee for service under the Nixon Administration, and the the increased use of preservatives and additives in our food supply as a direct result of Department of Agriculture subsidies for corn which led to the replacement of sugar with high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin.  Nearly every pressing problem of the current day has its genesis in government expansion, whether in size or in authority (usually some combination of the two).  

The only question is why you would expect government to provide a solution when the overwhelming historical evidence suggests and even screams that government will provide a furtherance of the problem.  In my home I am a deeply conservative man, but I recognize that implementing such principles in government leads to utterly disastrous results for liberty, freedom, and even the fiscal health of the country.  After all, while I can cut costs and corners with coupons and the like, you can’t do the same with bridges and levees.  This is why I am conservative in the home, and libertarian in my outlook on government.  It is entirely appropriate for the government to build roads and bridges, for we all use them, and we all should contribute to their construction and upkeep with our taxes.  

Unfortunately, a good many of my libertarian friends live in a world of sunshine and rainbows as well, where privatizing everything would lead to cumbaya and and joyous angelic choruses from the heavens.  Imagine their dismay when I point out that most of the government is comprised of private contractors earning on average $30-40,000 more per employee than their public sector counterparts.  This tendency towards privatization has not led to a contraction of government’s role and expenditures; it has only compounded the issue.  The very companies who gain the contracts to administer welfare programs and the services of government lobby fiercely against any rolling back of government spending and authority.  The reason it is so damn hard to beat back government authority and spending is because of privatization.  

To those friends I say this: I live in a real world, where libertarianism at its worst can take on the visage of ideology in its unthinking and unswerving allegiance to the idea that profit driven government is the best form of government, even though profit driven government produced inferior levees and canal systems, and the MRGO project which funneled Katrina’s storm surge directly into the heart of New Orleans and submerged 80% of that city.  There are times when we shouldn’t worry about profit, but rather about doing the best job possible, and where infrastructure is concerned, you get what you pay for, and what you pay for often has a bearing on public safety and security.  It’s an investment with sometimes intangible and non-visceral payoffs, but in the end, your houses and businesses won’t be underwater as the result of a Category 2 storm.  

Sunshine and rainbows are not for me where government is concerned.  Reality as measured by the evidence is for me, and it is because of this that I write what I write, say what I say, and stand where I stand.  It’s easy for me to take these positions, because I’m not a politician running for office.  There’s nothing for me to sell.  But I’m still trying to sell these ideas and perspectives, because I believe that they are vital to the renewal and survival of my country and the betterment of its people.  

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Problem of Violent Fundamentalism: Religious Freedom and Responsibilities Thereof

The Problem of Violent Fundamentalism: Religious Freedom and Responsibilities Thereof

There is a telling characteristic of fundamentalist belief which impedes any attempt to reconcile fundamentalists to a lawful society.  Simply put, the end result of any fundamentalist belief is the elimination of religious choice, free speech, and individual liberty for others who fall outside of the fundamentalism in question by virtue of their choices where matters of religion are concerned.  Indeed, the fundamentalist sees religion as the essential component of any society and does not draw any distinction between faith, politics, or science.  Fundamentalism is not merely incompatible with polite society; it is thoroughly incompatible with free societies which seek to guarantee individual liberties for their citizens.  

A fundamentalist does not merely seek to exercise his or her liberties in the fulfillment of guaranteed freedoms; he or she seeks to exercise his or her liberties in such a way as to overturn and deracinate guaranteed freedoms for others whose exercise of such liberties does not conform to whatever vein of fundamentalist belief the fundamentalist in question holds.  The great danger within our society is not merely Islamic fundamentalist, it is any type of fundamentalism, regardless of denomination or religious emphasis.  

The end result or goal of any fundamentalist movement or belief system is the monopolization of choice.  It is statist religion, insofar as it seeks to appropriate the power of the state to emphasize itself to the detriment or even to the exclusion of other forms of religious belief and expression.  What we must come to understand and grasp as individuals committed to our own freedoms is that alignment with fundamentalists of any stripe constitutes a direct assault on the core liberties contained with the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.  

The great threat to freedom will always be freedom within any nation that has guarantees of religious freedom.  Whether of the secular stripe, where secularists attempt to expunge and expel any reference to religion whatsoever from the public sphere, or of the religious stripe, where thinly disguised theocrats and dominionists attempt to drape virtually everything with their particular brand of religiosity, America faces pressures from fundamentalists in all forms.  What is more, it is extraordinarily hard to confront the threat without infringing religious freedoms.  

This is largely because the vast majority of Americans, even those with deeply held religious convictions, may attend or affiliate with fundamentalist denominations or organizations as a matter of their heritage.  If we are to be honest about the state of religious affiliations, we must acknowledge that many of us inherit our belief systems.  We are Baptist because we were raised Baptist; Presbyterian because we were raised Presbyterian, and so on and so forth.  

We don’t necessarily agree with everything that the Baptist and Presbyterian dogma imparts.  It is the same with every other strain of religious belief.  The people in the pews are largely open to various theological strains within and without their denominational affiliation.  There are Calvinist Baptists, Arminian Baptists, and hybridizations among the two.  

Within Islam, there are two major strains of belief in the Sunni and Shiite faiths, and there are hundreds of bifurcations beyond those two major strains in theory and in practice.  Within Judaism, there are Hasidic, Reformed, Conservative, and hundreds of other deviations beyond.  A simple emphasis on this midrash or that midrash can result in the flowering of an entirely new form of Judaism.  

Across virtually every other form of religious belief, be it Christianity, Hindu, Islam, or Judaism, the practitioners put forth their own emphases according to their personal viewpoint and perspective.  This is at it should be in a free and open society.  What is problematic is when that personal viewpoint and perspective evolves into something thoroughly incompatible with free and open societies: a malignant strain of belief which contends for actions or eventualities which would lead to the extermination or relegation of other forms of belief to a extinct or second hand status.  

Solutions, if there are any to be found and developed, should not come from the government.  They should come from within the religious groups and communities themselves.  We must all recognize that in this day and age of terrorism, where religious belief is often the catalyst to violent and reprehensible action, we bear a responsibility for handling our own in-house problems.  

The great impetus to such an in-house solution to the problem of violent fundamentalism is this: many of us in the non-fundamentalist vein believe that religion is a deeply personal matter, and we do not feel comfortable telling others that they are totally wrong to believe as they believe.  We must understand that if we do not police our own frontiers; we are inviting a day when one of our adherents and brothers in whatever particular faith we hold will act in a way that holds grave implications for each of us.  We in the various faith traditions are our brother’s keeper.   There are certain responsibilities to be maintained given this reality.  

We must develop methods of identifying potentially violent strains of theology or belief as they develop within our own bodies, and we must take steps to intervene. First, we must appeal to those parties taking such theological systems up as their own on the grounds of textual accuracy.  We must engage them in a dialogue, and we must win the argument.  We must further be very clear that advocating violence in any form as a means of religious expression is unacceptable, and will result in the expulsion of any party to such advocacy from our body.  What is more, we bear the responsibility of warning the larger community and the authorities of the potential such parties hold for violence.  We may not be guilty, but we are responsible to see to it that every possible legal step is taken to prevent threats to human life.  

We must further be willing to cut off those individuals who take up such violent rhetoric and espouse violent methods from our communities and our social interactions.  The threat of isolation is a powerful tool of community motivation.  Many of these individuals rely on employment, patronage, and fellowship within their various faith communities.  Their lives are inextricably interwoven with the faith community.  A firm but united stance will be a powerful form of peer pressure which will deter and perhaps even strategically cripple such individuals and offshoots before they can ever become a serious threat.  Without the economic support of their fellow believers, and with the negative publicity generated by those fellow believers as they warn the larger community of what is afoot, these individuals can be subjected to a powerful form of discipline which would discourage the successful implementation of their plans. 

We must also entertain no delusions about violent fundamentalism.  It is visceral and appealing.  The longer it is allowed to persist within a community, the more it will attract recruits.  It is a metastasizing cancer, and it will infect and contaminate more and more individuals the longer it is tolerated.  Excising it quickly and efficiently is the only way to counter its appeal.  Policies, procedures, and methods must be developed within each local church, mosque, synagogue, stake, and temple to confront these threats with the immediacy they merit.  

Advocacy of violence, or statements of tolerance towards violent methodology are simply irresponsible and unacceptable.  We in the various faith communities have a duty to preserve life, especially the lives of our enemies.  We will not be judged by how we treated our friends, but rather by the manner in which we dealt with our enemies.  There will be those who antagonize and provoke us, whose lives stand as a blatant contradiction to everything we hold to be true, but we are not to act in a violent manner towards them on the basis of our faith.  Religious belief is a call away from violence and towards a higher standard of behavior over and above our natural impulse to retaliate.  It is the organizing base of society that exists above the family, and it enables families to live in peace and order.  Insofar as government is tolerant and conducive to various strains of religious belief, it is an organizing variable through which certain universally held principles can be acknowledged and enforced throughout nations with diversities of belief.  

We are responsible for our own.  While government may not impart such responsibility to us, we bear it within ourselves.  We must confront these trends and tendencies and act in a proactive and preventive manner without government encouragement.  If we truly do represent a higher power, we must consider that we are the only representation of that power on earth to a larger community.  We owe it to our God to see to it that He is represented well.  

Textually speaking, there is ample evidence to suggest that violence is acknowledged in the major religions and even encouraged.  However, we must look at the stated justifications for violence.  In particular, the major religions encourage violence on the grounds of self-defense: 

إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ يَصِلُونَ إِلَىٰ قَوْمٍۭ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُم مِّيثَٰقٌ أَوْ جَآءُوكُمْ حَصِرَتْ صُدُورُهُمْ أَن يُقَٰتِلُوكُمْ أَوْ يُقَٰتِلُوا۟ قَوْمَهُمْ ۚ وَلَوْ شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ لَسَلَّطَهُمْ عَلَيْكُمْ فَلَقَٰتَلُوكُمْ ۚ فَإِنِ ٱعْتَزَلُوكُمْ فَلَمْ يُقَٰتِلُوكُمْ وَأَلْقَوْا۟ إِلَيْكُمُ ٱلسَّلَمَ فَمَا جَعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبِيلًۭا

Surah Nisan 4:91 

Except those who reach a people between whom and you there is an alliance, or who come to you, their hearts shrinking from fighting you or fighting their own people; and if Allah had pleased, He would have given them power over you, so that they should have certainly fought you; therefore if they withdraw from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not given you a way against them.

It is perfectly reasonable, given the history of Islam at the time the Qu’ran was conceived, that self-defense should be advocated by Muhammad.  There was no such thing as a prisoner of war.  If the Muslims at that time, during their flight to and residence in Medina, had not defended themselves, they would have been eradicated.  Textually speaking, Muslims have a grounds for defending themselves and their lands against attack.  This is a reasonable standard.  Moreover, such a standard constitutes a limit upon action, as noted earlier in the same surah: 

تِلْكَ حُدُودُ ٱللَّهِ ۚ وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥ يُدْخِلْهُ جَنَّٰتٍۢ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِهَا ٱلْأَنْهَٰرُ خَٰلِدِينَ فِيهَا ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ ٱلْفَوْزُ ٱلْعَظِيمُ

وَمَن يَعْصِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥ وَيَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَهُۥ يُدْخِلْهُ نَارًا خَٰلِدًۭا فِيهَا وَلَهُۥ عَذَابٌۭ مُّهِينٌۭ

Surah Nisan 4:13-14

These are Allah's limits, and whoever obeys Allah and His Apostle, He will cause him to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them; and this is the great achievement.

And whoever disobeys Allah and His Apostle and goes beyond His limits, He will cause him to enter fire to abide in it, and he shall have an abasing chastisement.

Key to understanding why Islam has morphed in certain instances into violent sectarianism is an understanding of the historical and cultural implications of the Middle East: invasion is not something most Americans have been used to, as we have faced invasion just once in our history during the War of 1812.  For Muslims living in the Middle East, and dealing with the implications of a fellow religious tradition whose staunchest proponents hold forth that Israel’s promised territory stretches all the way to the Persian Gulf, a siege mentality is ingrained within their psyches.  Reciprocally speaking, the same siege mentality is ingrained within the Jewish culture as well, given the history of the Jewish people and their treatment at the hands of European royal houses and Christian nations.  Muslims have also faced wars among their own two major sectarian branches as well which have contributed to the aggrieved mentality.  

Moreover, there is a historical precedent for such a viewpoint towards Christians as well, given the Crusades.  

The Qu’ran was conceived in a time of war.  It is within that context that we in the West must view some of the more inflammatory passages, just as we must view the inflammatory passages of the Bible within the context they were conceived and brought forth. But there are limits imposed on warfare by the Qu’ran, and those limits are not to be exceeded by any true adherent of Islam: 

وَقَٰتِلُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ يُقَٰتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُعْتَدِينَ

Surah Al-Baqara 2:190

And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.

وَقَٰتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌۭ وَيَكُونَ ٱلدِّينُ لِلَّهِ ۖ فَإِنِ ٱنتَهَوْا۟ فَلَا عُدْوَٰنَ إِلَّا عَلَى ٱلظَّٰلِمِينَ 

Surah Al-Baqara 2:193 

And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.

That is not to say that Islam as a whole is consumed with moderation.  We have our heretics in Christianity, and they have theirs.  But whoever keeps the precepts of faith is known as a genuine believer, while whoever adds to or subtracts from the precepts is known as an unbeliever.  There is room within the faiths for self-defense, and little else in the way of violence.  Later on, in the case of Islam and Christianity, individuals and groups came along who betrayed central tenets of the two faiths and further compounded their error by attributing it to the Qu’ran and the Bible, and by direct implication, Allah or God.  

We must further understand that the media seeks to fan the flames of sectarianism at all times, taking either the position that all religious belief is fundamentalism or potentially violent, or that certain religions practiced by minorities here but majorities elsewhere seek world domination.  By selectively excerpting the messages of the most extreme examples they can find, the media is guilty of contributing to the general division among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  To give you an example of how selectively the media treats Islam, imagine that the Christian Identity and the followers of R.J. Rushdooney were the examples presented by the media as representative of Christianity as a whole.  

What is more, the practitioners of Islam do bear a certain amount of guilt for failing to effectively deal with their own internal problems, just as Christians and Jews bear similar guilt for having failed to deal with their own internal problems where violent fundamentalists are concerned.  At all times, we in the various camps must be absolutely vociferous in our attacks on those who pervert our faiths into instruments of death and destruction.  Religious freedom is not responsibility free.  We are entrusted to police and patrol our own borders and our own ranks, and to deal with violent heresy appropriately up to and including reporting the existence and mobilization of such groups to the authorities so that they can be monitored and intercepted in the event that rhetoric turns to action.  

In all things, reasonableness and moderation must be allowed to prevail.  We bear the responsibility of controlling our own lives, and we are responsible for making moral decisions in every facet of our lives.  The government should not have to be involved in policing religious groups who conform to the law, nor should government authorities have to be tasked with trolling religious groups.  We are responsible for cooperating with the civil authorities in order to distinguish the true from the untrue.  There should be no confusion between our religious belief and that of violent fundamentalists, and they should not be permitted to have cover by mingling among us.  Expel them and have no fellowship with them. 

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