Long ago in an almost forgotten presidential primary debate, U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-South Carolina, delivered a classic line about Ronald Reagan.
It wasn’t the things that the Gipper didn’t know that created trouble, Hollings said. Rather, Hollings continued, it was the stuff that Reagan “knew for sure that just wasn’t so” that was the problem.
I’ve thought about Hollings’ jest as we approach the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly.
This session promises us proposals that will protect the “rights” of Christians to celebrate Christmas in public schools and on courthouse lawns and to refuse service to gay people because doing so will violate their religious principles.
Doubtless, we also will see Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, continue his efforts with other state legislators from around the country to rewrite the U.S. Constitution.
Driving these initiatives is the unshakable conviction that something is wrong with the moral workings of the universe and the law if social conservatives aren’t allowed to use the power of government – to borrow former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s revealing phrase – “to inflict” their “views on others.”
Behind that conviction is still another one: No matter how pugnacious their behavior is in regard to attempting to inflict those views on others, social conservatives are always the victims. Unless they’re given free rein to use government’s power to persecute others, they somehow become the persecuted themselves.
Nothing – neither facts nor logic – can derail this entrenched sense of victimhood. If anything, contrary evidence just heightens their sense of martyrdom.
Long’s attempt to rewrite the Constitution, he says, springs from concerns over the national debt and what he calls federal government overreach.
His concern about the debt apparently slumbered during the Reagan and George W. Bush presidencies – when the national debt load exploded – but awakened when Barack Obama became president. That the federal government’s deficit in relation to our gross national product has steadily declined during the Obama years hasn’t lulled Long back to his untroubled sleep of earlier days.
Then there’s the ongoing campaign by state Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, to “save” Christmas, even though the constitutional guidelines for religious displays are clear. If teachers and other public officials want to open the door to one faith tradition, then they have to open it to all faith traditions. If they’re not comfortable with giving Satanists the same space on the courthouse lawn or in the classroom they give to Baptists, then they have to close the lawn or the classroom to celebrations of faith. Everyone gets to worship or no one does.
Smith seems to think Christians are being mistreated if they aren’t given preferential treatment before the law – and that the Indiana General Assembly has the authority to trump the U.S. Constitution.
Last, there’s the curiously named “religious liberty” bill championed by state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, which would allow businesses to discriminate against gay Hoosiers.
I say “curious” for two reasons.
First, how will business owners test whether someone is homosexual before denying him or her service?
Second, it’s interesting that homosexuality triggered this need for Christian business owners to keep their hands unsullied, rather than murder, adultery or lying – about which I seem to recall the Bible speaking clearly.
Schneider’s bill is a response to the failed attempt last year by social conservatives to use the state constitution to prevent gay citizens from entering into contracts to provide love and support for each other – in the legal sense, that’s what marriages and civil unions are – and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to support same-sex marriage bans in states.
Again, because they aren’t allowed to persecute others, social conservatives see themselves as the persecuted.
You see, it’s not what they don’t know that causes the trouble. It’s what they know for sure that just isn’t so that’s the problem.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.