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What the Declaration of Indepdence Really Says

July 4 at 10:10 AM

[As we celebrate Independence Day, I thought I would post an excerpt about the Declaration of Independence from my forthcoming book, Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Sovereignty of the People (which is now available for pre-order on Amazon).]

Today, while all Americans have heard of the Declaration of Independence, all too few have read more than its second sentence. Yet the Declaration shows the natural rights foundation of the American Revolution and provides important information about what the founders believed makes a constitution or government legitimate. It also raises the question of how these fundamental rights are reconciled with the idea of “the consent of the governed,” another idea for which the Declaration is famous.

When reading the Declaration, it is worth keeping in mind two very important facts. The Declaration constituted high treason against the Crown. Every person who signed it would be executed as traitors should they be caught by the British. Second, the Declaration was considered to be a legal document by which the revolutionaries justified their actions and explained why they were not truly traitors. It represented, as it were, a literal indictment of the Crown and Parliament, in the very same way that criminals are now publicly indicted for their alleged crimes by grand juries representing “the People.”

But to justify a revolution, it was not thought to be enough that officials of the government of England, the Parliament, or even the King himself had violated the rights of the people. No government is perfect; all governments violate rights. This was well known.

So the Americans had to allege more than mere violations of rights. They had to allege nothing short of a criminal conspiracy to violate their rights systematically. Hence the Declaration’s famous reference to “a long train of abuses and usurpations” and the list that followed. In some cases, these specific complaints account for provisions eventually included in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But before this list of particular grievances come two paragraphs succinctly describing the political theory on which the new polity was founded. To appreciate all that is packed into these two paragraphs, it is useful to break down the Declaration into some of its key claims.

  1. When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

This first sentence is often forgotten. It asserts that Americans as a whole, rather than as members of their respective colonies, are a distinct “people.” And this “one people” is not a collective entity, but an aggregate of particular individuals. So “they” not it should “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

To “dissolve the political bands” revokes the “social compact” that existed between the Americans and the rest of the people of the British commonwealth, reinstates the “state of nature” between Americans and the government of Great Britain, and makes “the Laws of Nature” the standard by which this dissolution and whatever government is to follow are judged. As Committee of Five delegate Roger Sherman observed in 1774, after hostilities broke out with the British, “We are Now in a State of Nature.”

But what are these “Laws of Nature”? To answer this, we can turn to a sermon delivered by the Reverend Elizur Goodrich at the Congregational Church in Durham Connecticut on the eve of the Philadelphia constitutional convention. At the time of the founding, it was a common practice for ministers to be invited to give an “election sermon” before newly-elected government officials, in this case the delegates to the Constitutional convention, to encourage them to govern according to God’s ways.

In his sermon, Goodrich explained that “the principles of society are the laws, which Almighty God has established in the moral world, and made necessary to be observed by mankind; in order to promote their true happiness, in their transactions and intercourse.” These laws, Goodrich observed, “may be considered as principles, in respect of their fixedness and operation,” and by knowing them, “we discover the rules of conduct, which direct mankind to the highest perfection, and supreme happiness of their nature.” These rules of conduct, he then explained, “are as fixed and unchangeable as the laws which operate in the natural world. Human art in order to produce certain effects, must conform to the principles and laws, which the Almighty Creator has established in the natural world.”

In this sense, natural laws govern every human endeavor, not just politics. They undergird what may be called “normative disciplines,” by which I mean those bodies of knowledge that guide human conduct—bodies of knowledge that tell us how we ought to act if we wish to achieve our goals. To illustrate this, Goodrich offered examples from agriculture, engineering, and architecture:

He who neglects the cultivation of his field, and the proper time of sowing, may not expect a harvest. He, who would assist mankind in raising weights, and overcoming obstacles, depends on certain rules, derived from the knowledge of mechanical principles applied to the construction of machines, in order to give the most useful effect to the smallest force: And every builder should well understand the best position of firmness and strength, when he is about to erect an edifice.

To ignore these principles is nothing short of denying reality, like jumping off a roof imagining that one can fly. “For he, who attempts these things, on other principles, than those of nature, attempts to make a new world; and his aim will prove absurd and his labour lost.” By making “a new world,” Goodrich meant denying the nature of the world in which we live. He concludes: “No more can mankind be conducted to happiness; or civil societies united, and enjoy peace and prosperity, without observing the moral principles and connections, which the Almighty Creator has established for the government of the moral world.”

The fact that Goodrich was a relatively obscure public figure—though his son would go on to serve as a Federalist congressman from Connecticut—shows the commonplace understanding of natural law. And Goodrich’s task was to remind the Connecticut delegates of the proper understanding “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

  1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The most famous line of the Declaration, and for some the only line they know. The Committee of Five’s draft referred to these as “inalienable” rights, but for reasons unknown the word was changed to “unalienable” sometime in the process of printing it for the public.

What are inalienable or “unalienable” rights? They are those you cannot give up even if you want to and consent to do so, unlike other rights that you can agree to transfer or waive. Why the claim that these rights are inalienable? The Founders want to counter England’s claim that, by accepting the colonial governance, the colonists had waived or alienated their rights. The Framers claimed that with inalienable rights, you always retain the ability to take back any right that has been given up.

The standard trilogy throughout this period was “life, liberty, and property.” For example, in its Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (1774), Congress had previously asserted that “the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts,” have the following rights: “That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.” Or, as the influential British political theorist John Locke wrote, “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

Perhaps the most commonly repeated formulation combines the right of property with the pursuit of happiness. This was the version drafted by George Mason for the Virginia Declaration of Rights—not the version actually approved by the Virginia convention in Williamsburg on June 11th, 1776, the very day that the Committee of Five was formed in Philadelphia to draft the Declaration for the nation.

The Virginia Convention balked at Mason’s specific wording “on the ground that it was not compatible with a slaveholding society. They changed ‘are born equally free’ to ‘are by nature equally free,’ and ‘inherent natural rights’ to ‘inherent rights.’” The adopted version read:

That  all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

As we will see, the language of Mason’s radical draft—rather than either Virginia’s final wording or Jefferson’s more succinct formulation—became the canonical statement of first principles. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont adopted Mason’s original references to “born equally free” and to “natural rights,” into their declarations of rights. In 1783, this language was used by the Massachusetts supreme court to invalidate slavery in that state. And in 1823, it was invoked in an influential opinion by Justice Bushrod Washington explaining the meaning of “privileges and immunities” of citizens in the several states.

On the one hand, this sentence of the Declaration will become a great embarrassment to a people who allowed the continuation of chattel slavery. On the other hand, making a public claim like this has consequences. That is why people make them publicly—to be held to account. Eventually, the Declaration became a lynchpin of the moral and constitutional arguments of the nineteenth-century abolitionists. It had to be explained away by the Supreme Court in Dred Scott.[xiv] It was much relied upon by Abraham Lincoln. And ultimately it needed to be repudiated by defenders of slavery in the South because of its inconsistency with that institution.

  1. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men. . . .’’

Another overlooked line, but for our purposes, possibly the most important. For it states what will later become the central underlying “republican” assumption of the Constitution: that “first comes rights and then comes government.” Here, even more clearly than Mason’s draft, the Declaration identifies the ultimate end or purpose of republican governments as securing the pre-existing natural rights that the previous sentence affirmed is the measure against which all government—whether of Great Britain or the United States—will be judged.

  1. “. . . deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

For reasons I will explain in this book, there is a tendency today to focus entirely on the second half of this sentence to the exclusion of the first part that references the securing of our natural rights. Then, by reading “the consent of the governed” as equivalent to “the will of the people,” the second part of the sentence seems to support majoritarian rule by the people’s “representatives.” In this way, the “consent of the governed” is read to mean “consent to majoritarian rule.” Put another way, the people can consent to anything, including rule by a majority in the legislature who will decide the scope of their rights as individuals.

But read carefully, one sees that the Declaration speaks of “just powers,” suggesting that only some powers are “justly” held by government, while others are beyond its proper authority. And notice also that “the consent of the governed” assumes that the people do not themselves rule or govern, but are “governed” by those individual persons who comprise the “governments” that “are instituted among men.”

The Declaration stipulates that those who govern the people are supposed “to secure” their pre-existing rights, not impose the will of a majority of the people on the minority. And, as the Virginia Declaration of Rights made explicit, these inalienable rights cannot be surrendered “by any compact.” So the “consent of the governed” cannot be used to override the inalienable rights of the sovereign people.

So we should recognize that there has arisen a tension between the first part of this sentence and the second. In political discourse, people tend to favor one of these concepts over the other—either preexistent natural rights or popular consent—which leads them to stress one part of this sentence in the Declaration over the other. The fact that rights can be uncertain and disputed leads some to emphasize the consent part of this sentence and the legitimacy of popularly-enacted legislation. But the fact that there is never unanimous consent to any particular law, or even to the government itself, leads others to emphasize the rights part of this sentence and the legitimacy of judges protecting the “fundamental” or “human” rights of individuals and minorities.

If we take both parts of this sentence seriously, however, I believe this apparent tension can be reconciled by distinguishing between (a) the ultimate end or purpose of any legitimate governance and (b) how any particular government gains jurisdiction to rule. So, while the protection of natural rights or justice is the ultimate end of governance, particular governments only gain jurisdiction to achieve this end by the consent of those who are governed.

In Chapter 3, we will see how the concepts of “natural rights” of the people and “the consent of the governed,” were reconciled by the idea of presumed consent. The people as a whole can only be presumed to have consented to what was actually expressed in the written Constitution and, absent a clear statement to the contrary, they cannot be presumed to have consented to surrender any of their natural rights.

Later in our history, the uncertainty of ascertaining natural rights will be addressed by shifting the question from specifying particular rights to critically examining whether any particular restriction of liberty can be shown to be within a “just power” of government—that is, a power to which any rational person would have consented, such as the equal protection of their fundamental rights, including their health and safety.

  1. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This passage restates the end of government—human safety and happiness—and identifies the “form of government” as a means to this end. Therefore, the people have a right to alter and abolish any form of government when it is destructive of these ends, as the Americans declared the British government to be in the list that followed.

Jefferson adopted it from Article 3 of George Mason’s draft Declaration of rights, which affirmed “that whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, indefeasible right, to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conductive to the publick Weal.”

* * *

The political theory announced in the Declaration of Independence can be summed up by the proposition I mentioned above: First come rights, and then comes government. According to this view:

  • The rights of individuals do not originate with any government, but pre-exist its formation.
  • The protection of these rights is both the purpose and first duty of government.
  • Even after government is formed, these rights provide a standard by which its performance is measured and, in extreme cases, its systemic failure to protect rights—or its systematic violation of rights—can justify its alteration or abolition.
  • At least some of these rights are so fundamental that they are “inalienable,” meaning they are so intimately connected to one’s nature as a human being that they cannot be transferred to another even if one consents to do so.



Racism Alive in North Without Confederate Flag

By Zack Stafford/The Guardian

In the summer of 2008, I crossed the Mason Dixon line – as many other black people had done decades before me during the Great Migration – and moved to Chicago after graduating from high school.

For the first few weeks, I was euphoric. I felt like I could breathe and move in ways that had been unavailable to me in my Tennessee hometown – a place where I was made to think about my skin tone on a daily basis.

“I haven’t seen a Confederate flag in weeks,” I told my mother on the phone a few weeks in. “I didn’t realize how used I had become to seeing them down there.” She felt pleased for me, because the weight of racism I’d faced back home seemed to already be lighter.

That quickly changed after 23 August – when Barack Obama was named the Democratic nominee for president.

“You Obama-nigger monkey!” a man wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey yelled at me. A few weeks after that, I heard another racial pejorative while out at a bar and another shortly after that. The idea of a black president seemed to shed many northerners of their progressive decorum.

The north wasn’t the utopia I had imagined. It was instead strikingly similar in regards to racism – just without the accents and the flags.

A marker at the Mason Dixon line separating North from South during the civil war. Photograph: Alamy

“We must caution against depicting this nation’s racist past and present as solely a localized southern phenomenon,” Jessica Barron, a sociologist at Duke University, told the Guardian.

Barron, who is largely interested in segregation, racism and spatial demography, says there is no doubt that the south has a brutal history of violence towards black people – but that we can’t just focus that history there. Brutality didn’t only begin there, nor is it currently isolated there. A striking example of the ever-present violence black Americans face are the reports that police violence leads to the death of a black man once every 28 hours in cities all across the US.

“We as a nation do not like to talk about slavery in the north, our 12 presidents who owned slaves, or our legal system that continues to legitimate racial disparities,” she said. “In the American imaginary, the south is a backwards place, consumed by its bigoted ways.”

According to Barron, we need to understand that racism isn’t only slavery or Jim Crow laws, but it’s more systemic than these instances. And we need to understand that the entire foundation of the US is built on a racial hierarchy that has always said that white is better than black – not just in the south.

Once we understand this, we can then begin to do the work to stop racism as a whole without trying to lay blame to an area of the country, which she thinks is just a form of complicity.

However, in light of the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s fair to not be able to shake the idea that the south is more violent in its racism. A larger number of hate groups are also active there.

Photo showing the Jim Crow signs of racial segregation in Durham, North Carolina (May 1940). Photograph: PhotoQuest/Getty Images

“The density of hate groups in the south has typically been thicker than other parts of the country,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) told the Guardian. “[But] it’s not like it’s just a ‘south thing’ – there are a lot of hate groups on the coasts as well.”

The SPLC is the leading organization in the US that represents victims of hate crimes. The organization also tracks all hate groups through their Hate Map, which noted 784 active groups in 2014.

According to Beirich, when it comes to the most violent hate in America, there is no southern or northern divide – rather it’s a national problem that is typically being led by what she calls “lone wolves”.

“For the most part, nowadays the violent acts that have taken place – including the shooting that took place in Charleston – are mostly locals. Sometimes they’ve been involved in hate groups, sometimes they haven’t. [But] they mostly are people getting radicalized on the internet and choosing to do this stuff on their own.”

Beirich says such crimes are the result of people digging deep and being influenced by forums and websites such as, which has over 300,000 registered white nationalists.

In other words, the internet is now the problem.

While she acknowledged that people on sites like should have their first amendment rights supported, she also feels that it’s the responsibility of businesses to not make money off messages that could influence others like Dylan Roof, for “hate propaganda leads to hate violence”.

Roof exemplified this in his online manifesto, where he wrote: “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

In his interview with Marc Maron, Obama said:

Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public … It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.

As the US hopefully begins to work to realize what the president points to, and Confederate flags begin to come down in Columbia, South Carolina, and maybe Mississippi, many of us will all begin to realize, like I did in 2008, that no matter where you live in the US, racism remains – even if the flags come down.

Zach Stafford is a writer currently living in Chicago. He is the co-editor of Boys, An Anthology. Follow him on Twitter at @zachstafford.


Why It's Time to Remove the Confederate Flag

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 year ago. The second best time is now."
-  Chinese Proverb

This proverb is at least 1,000 years old, but could easily be paraphrased as a perfect prescription for the situation the state of South Carolina is currently facing.

The best time to take the Confederate Battle Flag off the State House grounds in Columbia was 50 years ago. The second best time is now.

With only a single House member of the Anderson County Legislative Delegation even willing to open debate on the subject, which represents five of the 10 votes against discussion, Anderson County is being painted nationally as the area with most backward, ill-informed and reactionary elected state officials in the Palmetto State.

Exactly 103 other members in the General Assembly agreed with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to get the Confederate flag off from the State House Grounds in the wake of the recent murders at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church. The alleged killer is an avowed racist who has stated he wanted to start a race war in the state. Boy, did he pick the wrong state for that twisted goal.

Much has already been said of the amazing Christian grace and racial unity and support in a city already reeling from the killing on an unarmed African American man with no violent history or record, by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. The kindling was already lit when the church slayings shocked Charleston, the rest of the state and the world. But unlike Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and New York where other incidents involving the deaths in African American communities erupted into riots, looting and other violence, what happened in Charleston was something few expected.

At the arraignment of the suspect who gunned down nine people in the church after spending an hour in bible study with them, the families of those nine victims offered Christian forgiveness. In the week since, unity marches, not riots, have marked the event. Prayer meetings, not looting, have been the rule of the day. And even outside groups which traveled to Charleston seeking to fan the flames of hate, were drowned out by singing.

It reflects what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said was a part of his dream:

“We are coming to see now, the psychiatrists are saying to us, that many of the strange things that happen in the sub-conscience, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, "Love or perish." But Jesus told us this a long time ago. And I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command. And isn’t it marvelous to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against an unjust system, fight it with all of your might, never accept it, and yet not stoop to violence and hatred in the process? This is what we have.”

Haley understands the core teaching of this call, and does not want South Carolina to be “cluttered with the wreckage of communities” that failed to follow Jesus’ command. The leadership in the African American community in this state, the families who lost loved ones in the church shooting, and countless others across the state recognize the clear hand of love, the olive branch of peace being extended as a demonstration of how to properly stand up to a unjust system to bring lasting change.

Most seem to clearly recognize these gestures and are responding in kind, with the type of love Jesus talked about when he said the only command greater than loving God is to love your neighbor.

If you lived in a community where you understood your neighbor worked swing shifts, you might remember to tone down your noise in the daylight hours when you knew they were sleeping. Or if you knew your neighbor was a widow, whose husband died serving this country during World War II in the Pacific, is is unlikely you would fly the flag of the Japanese Imperial Navy in your front yard, out of respect.

The Confederate Battle Flag is both offensive and threatening to many in the African American community, and with good reason. While the flag is nothing more than a dyed piece of cloth on a stick, what it represents is determined by how it is used. Some argue that is not fair, but fairness is not at issue in this debate. The truth is the Ku Klux Klan, and according to one report, 500 other extremist groups use the flag as at least one of their symbols. While certainly most who fly that flag do not agree with what these groups stand for, it does not change the fact that there is an association with hatred and bigotry connected to that particular emblem.

Some have tried to argue the flag is a symbol of heritage, not hate, and for a few people that could be true. But few of those are among the groups targeted by those who have chosen the symbol as a weapon of warning and ignorance. As a Southerner whose family roots in South Carolina go back at least seven generations, it is clear many of my people fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. But that war ended 150 years ago, and when it did the Confederate flags in Columbia came down. It was only during the centennial celebration it was added to the capitol dome, which conveniently coincided with the state’s fierce opposition to the legal requirements of Brown vs. the Board of Education which said that “separate but equal” schools were not to be allowed in America.

The flag was clearly intended, not just in South Carolina but across the South and in many other parts of the country, as a signal of opposition to the racial integration of schools and a general opposition to the civil rights movement calling for an end to excluding minorities from voting and being allowed in “whites only” businesses and transportation interests.

Many today have never forgotten than between the turn of the last century and 1968, more than 3,400 African Americas were lynched in this country and most of those were in the South. South Carolina had 156, Georgia 492, Mississippi 539, Tennessee 204, Lousiana 335, Alabama 299, Texas 352, Arkansas 226, Florida 257 and Kentucky 142. Those numbers represent a lot of families who have not forgotten the terror of those times, the KKK was already using the Confederate battle flag as their flag before 1900.

So as those have been wronged offer forgiveness, why is it that these members of the Anderson County Delegation House members - Craig A. Gagnon, District 11, Michael W. "Mike" Gambrell, District 7, Jonathan D. Hill, District 8, Anne J. Thayer, District 9 and W. Brian White, District 6 - voted against the idea of of even debating the issue.
It is a wildly overused phrase, but one which still holds meaning on this issue: these representatives are on the wrong side of history.

South Carolina today is the U.S. headquarters of BMW, Michelin (and soon Volvo) and is home to hundreds of other international businesses. It is foolhardy to think the current controversy is lost on the leaders of these industries. We are a state which had a long way to come, but one where we have made great progress, and now is the time to demonstrate our commitment to moving ahead.

In a state where nearly a third of our citizens are African American - only four states have a slightly higher percentage - and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is one of one three African Americans in the U.S. Senate, clearly we are ready to move forward.

The flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina is one controversy we finally have the vision to put to rest.

Let’s hope the General Assembly demonstrates the leadership and wisdom to make it happen.

Contact the Anderson County Delegation here to tell them you expect them to be a part of this historic move, and remind them the primary season for 2016 elections is closer than they might think.


MLK's Dream Lives

By Richard Land , Christian Post

What extraordinary and compelling images have emerged from Charleston in the past week.

First, we were assaulted with the images of the senseless slaughter of nine innocent Christians attending a Wednesday night Bible study in their church, Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. These people were killed by a hate-filled white supremacist just because they were black. The brutality of the crime profoundly shocked the nation.

Then came the extraordinary reaction of the victims' loved ones and fellow church members. As Christians, through their heartbreak and personal loss, they confronted the perpetrator and told him they forgave him and prayed for his soul. What a profound witness to the transformative power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These black brothers and sisters, capturing and modeling the true spirit of the Gospel so vividly testified to two generations ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who proclaimed in the face of the particularly malevolent brand of evil that would blow up four little girls in church on a Sunday morning in Birmingham, "those you would change, you must first love."

To witness the faith and forgiveness of the African-American members of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church is to expose the current generation to the life-changing impact and power of the non-violent, reconciling message of the 1960s civil rights revolution that transformed our nation in so many very important and critical ways.

Dr. King and his followers refused to allow hate to stifle and shrivel their hearts and souls, and instead became "ambassadors" of reconciliation, preaching that love conquers evil (II Cor. 5:17-21). They triumphed over the implacable evil of the KKK and the White Citizens Councils of their day, and in doing so liberated all Americans, black and white, victim and victimizer, from the corrosive evil of Jim Crow racism.

Now, a half century later, in the very heart of the former Confederacy, where the armed conflict of the Civil War actually started at Fort Sumter in Charleston's harbor, these African-American Christian brothers and sisters vividly illustrate that Dr. King's dream still lives of an America where all people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." ("I Have a Dream" speech, 1963).

The white supremacist murderer wanted his evil deeds to start a race war. Instead, the black Christians from Charleston are leading a suddenly reborn, vibrant movement of racial reconciliation in America. A church born in slavery in 1816, burned to the ground in 1822 by white slaveholders in the wake of Denmark Vesey's attempted slave uprising, forced to worship underground until after the Civil War, is now functioning as the thermostat all churches should be. Dr. King made this very point in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" (1963), where he explained that in the early centuries of the church, convictional Christianity "was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion, it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."

What a difference a half century can make. Charleston's Christians, black and white, are uniting to be reconcilers, not revilers. This is the life-transforming power that is defeating evil in the human heart.

And as we witness and experience the exhilarating hope generated by the "Charleston Way," let us pause to contrast it with the recent suggestion that in the wake of the declining influence of civil Christianity in America, that convictional Christians should voluntarily withdraw from society, and function in separate social communities, institutions and ways of living, in an effort to preserve and defend authentic Christianity against an ever-darkening civilization.

This budding movement among Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical Christians is being called the "Benedict" option after St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543 AD), a fifth century Christian whose monastery movement helped guard, protect, and preserve Christianity and Western Civilization after the barbarians engulfed the Roman Empire. Popularized by the former Catholic, now Orthodox, Christian commentator and writer Rod Dreher, the movement calls for varying degrees of disengagement with an ever more intolerant and transcendent secular culture.

What has happened in Charleston these past few days is a vivid illustration and reminder of what society would lose if convictional Christians chose the Benedict option. A society in which Christian mores and values are in decline is an ever more self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish society increasingly concerned with ever more libidinous, self-gratifying pursuits. Such a society will generate a lot more Fergusons and Baltimores and no more Charlestons.

As Christians, if we are to follow our Lord and Saviour's commands to be salt and light in society (Mtt. 5:13-16), withdrawing from the playing field is not an option. Faithfulness does not require or promise victory in this world, but it does demand obedience.

And if we think American society is crass, selfish, shallow, and destructive now, imagine what it would be like if convictional Christians disengaged and withdrew inward into self-contained communities and abandoned the rest of society to stew in its own corrosive juices.

No, we must remain faithful, bearing witness in word and deed to the transforming love of the Gospel and doing so, like the prophet Jeremiah, speaking God's truth in love and compassion, with a catch in our voice and tears in our eyes as we weep and grieve for the pain and suffering caused by the people's destructive behaviors.


Time to End Confederate Flag Talk and Take it Down


If the South Carolina General Assembly doesn’t get the Confederate battle flag off the Statehouse grounds after what happened last week in Charleston, then we might as well replace the Palmetto Tree on the proper state flag – the beautiful blue one – with a swastika.

I’m sick of the cockeyed excuses from state politicians about why the Confederate flag issue is so complicated.

Nine innocent black people are murdered by a 21-year-old white man consumed with racist hatred. He embraces the symbols that divide people, including the Confederate flag, and declares his murderous intentions in racist manifestos and photos posted online.

Could it be any clearer what that flag now represents to most people? How complicated is that?

Some members of the families of the victims – my fellow South Carolinians – did a remarkable thing at the first court hearing on Friday: They forgave him. How is that possible?

It’s because many black Americans – particularly here in the American South – have in previous generations undergone so much oppression, injustice and terrorism that they have had to learn to forgive the worst in other humans just to survive and move on. It’s a coping mechanism.

My family has been here in the American South since the 1700s, and my great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. He was a printer. He printed currency. After the South lost the war and the United States emerged intact – thank God – he became a newspaperman.

The family business he started continues today, and now six generations of my American family have been dedicated to supporting the communities we serve and protecting the First Amendment of the United States of America through publishing and communication. We have a track record, so here’s some free speech for those who want to keep the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds as some twisted symbol of Southern heritage: You’re misguided and morally blind. Snap out of it.

The Southern pride, heritage and bravery I recognize and appreciate – and what I pray my children and their children will carry forward – is that of U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and my own father.

It’s a legacy of teaching, serving the public good and demonstrating through action the importance of trying to do the right thing by all people. It’s a legacy of moving South Carolina forward in spite of the old hatreds that fester like a genetic cancer in so many.

I’ve seen these people. I’ve known them all my life. I don’t like them, but I do feel sorry for them and have tried to forgive them for one very important reason: They’re spiritually sick, and they know not what they do.

The Southern pride, heritage and bravery I want to be associated with is that of the families of the victims who on Friday forgave the monster who murdered their loved ones in cold blood. The only grace and love that could have enabled such an action comes from a faith in God and humanity so deep that we should all pray for some small part of it in our own spirit. I’m praying for just a piece of that amazing grace for all South Carolinians this week as the victims are buried.

This is South Carolina’s time to show the world our true, united colors as a people. Start with the flag. Do the right thing.

Graham Osteen is editor-at-large of The Item. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GrahamOsteen, or visit

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Amazing Grace in Charleston

By Cal Thomas
Fifteen minutes before the beginning of the Sunday morning church service, guests are told the building is filled to capacity and they must leave the historic Emanuel African Methodist Church.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

It is such a rare act that most do not know how to respond, except in stunned silence. Relatives of the nine people murdered while attending a Bible study and prayer meeting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, told the accused killer they forgive him.

In violent streets we have become used to calls for retribution, appeals for justice, rioting, looting, marches and self-appointed civil rights leaders hogging cameras and microphones with angry people standing behind them and chants of "no justice, no peace."

But this; this act of forgiveness by grandsons and sons, daughters, husbands and other relatives of the dead is so out of character, so distant from the "norm" we have come to expect, so not Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore, so not the Middle East, that it makes the world stop and pause.

Preachers call it "grace," which they define as "unmerited favor." The accused killer doesn't deserve it, but he is offered forgiveness nonetheless. It speaks volumes about the character and spiritual strength of those extending grace to him. In a normal person, grace might bring repentance and, yes, salvation, which is what at least one of the relatives said she was praying would happen to Dylann Roof, a deeply troubled 21-year-old who is accused of the murders.

When the world sees such acts of kindness, it doesn't know what to say. For many it is unfamiliar territory. And yet it is precisely the outworking of what those in that prayer meeting found in the Bible they were studying and the God to whom they prayed. It is a part of the nonviolence taught and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His refusal to respond to violence with violence helped turn the hearts of many and change the laws of a nation.

Pictures of church services following the killings showed a racial diversity and a coming together that might not just heal Charleston, but serve as a model for the rest of the nation about how to react to senseless violence. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's emotional response to the murders also served as a needed balm that can help heal Charleston's deep wound.

"Amazing Grace" is a hymn sung in churches, at funerals and on other occasions. It is familiar even to those who are not regular churchgoers and may not fully appreciate its meaning. The author, John Newton, was a slave trader. The story of his remorse, repentance and salvation has been told in books and films, but never better than in the first verse of his hymn:

"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see."

Those sweet people who unknowingly but graciously welcomed Dylann Roof into their prayer meeting, only to come face to face with a man who in the parlance of the church must have been possessed by a demon, if not Satan himself, are now receiving the fruits of God's grace. Relatives of the dead who have extended grace to Root have also modeled it to the rest of the country. In doing so they are examples of the One they follow, who, though innocent of any wrongdoing, said to His Father while hanging on a cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.

Why TPP a Bad Deal for America

by Elizabeth Warren

Recently Hillary Clinton joined Nancy Pelosi and many others in Congress to call on the president to reorient our trade policy so that it produces a good deal for all Americans — not just for a handful of big corporations. Here’s a realistic starting point: Fix the way we enforce trade agreements to ensure a level playing field for everyone. Many of our close allies — major trading partners like Australia, Germany, France, India, South Africa, and Brazil — are already moving in this direction. American negotiators should stop fighting those efforts and start leading them.

We live in a largely free trade world. Over the past 50 years, we’ve opened up countless markets, so that tariffs today are generally low. As a result, modern trade agreements are less about reducing tariffs and more about writing new rules for everything from labor, health, and environmental standards to food safety, prescription drug access, and copyright protections.

Even if those rules strike the right balance among competing interests, the true impact of a trade deal will turn on how well those rules are enforced. And that is the fundamental problem: America’s current trade policy makes it nearly impossible to enforce rules that protect hard-working families, but very easy to enforce rules that favor multinational corporations.

For example, anyone who wishes to enforce rules that impose labor or environmental standards must plead with our government to bring a claim on their behalf. Reports from the Government Accountability Office, the Labor Department, and the State Department have shown that the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have rarely brought such claims, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of violations. Without strong enforcement, promises that American workers won’t have to compete against 50-cent-an-hour foreign laborers or promises that countries with terrible environmental records will raise their standards are meaningless.

But multinational corporations don’t have to plead with the government to enforce their claims. Instead, modern trade deals give corporations the right to go straight to an arbitration panel when a country passes new laws or applies existing laws in ways that the corporations believe will cost them money. Known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), these international arbitration panels can force countries to pony up billions of dollars in compensation. And these awards stick: No matter how crazy or outrageous the decision, no appeals are permitted. Once the arbitration panel rules, taxpayers must pay.

Because of how costly these awards can be, ISDS creates enormous pressure on governments to avoid actions that might offend corporate interests. Corporations have brought ISDS cases against countries that have raised their minimum wage, attempted to cut smoking rates, or prohibited dumping toxic chemicals. Just last month, a foreign corporation successfully challenged Canada’s decision to deny a blasting permit because of concerns about the environmental impact on nearby fishing grounds, and now the company could get up to $300 million from Canadian taxpayers. Will Canada’s environmental regulators hesitate before they say no to the next foreign corporation that wants to dump, blast, or drill?

Leading economic and legal experts have called on America to drop ISDS from its trade deals. Hillary Clinton recently called ISDS “a fundamentally antidemocratic process.” The conservative Cato Institute agrees, noting that ISDS is “ripe for exploitation by creative lawyers” looking to challenge the “world’s laws and regulations.”

And here lies the double standard at the heart of our trade deals: Once they sign on, countries know that if they strengthen worker, health, or environmental standards, they invite corporate ISDS claims that can bleed taxpayers dry. But countries also know that if they fail to raise wages or stop dumping in the river — even if they made such promises in the trade deal — the US government will likely do nothing.

While American negotiators ignore this problem, the rest of the world is waking up and fighting back. After Phillip Morris targeted it for billions in ISDS compensation, Australia began raising significant objections to ISDS. Negotiations with Europe over a massive new trade deal have stalled in part because of objections to ISDS, including from Germany and France. India is considering abandoning ISDS. So is South Africa, after being hit with an ISDS action challenging — incredibly — its postapartheid policies promoting minority ownership in its mining sector. Brazil has flatly refused to include ISDS in any of its trade agreements.

America needs trade — but not trade agreements that offer gold-plated enforcement for giant corporations and meaningless promises for everyone else. If we truly want better deals that work for everyone, we should stop clinging to our enforcement double standard and start joining our allies in trying to level the playing field.

Elizabeth Warren is a US senator from Massachusetts.


Painful Truth: Hillary Not Qualified to Be President

By Thomas Sowell

There are no sure things in politics, but Hillary Clinton is the closest thing to a sure thing to become the Democrats' candidate for president in 2016.

This is one of the painful but inescapable signs of our time. There is nothing in her history that would qualify her for the presidency, and much that should disqualify her. What is even more painful is that none of that matters politically. Many people simply want "a woman" to be president, and Hillary is the best-known woman in politics, though by no means the best qualified.

What is Hillary's history? In the most important job she has ever held — Secretary of State — American foreign policy has had one setback after another, punctuated by disasters.

U.S. intervention in Libya and Egypt, undermining governments that were no threat to American interests, led to Islamic extremists taking over in Egypt and terrorist chaos in Libya, where the American ambassador was killed, along with three other Americans.

Fortunately, the Egyptian military has gotten rid of that country's extremist government that was persecuting Christians, threatening Israel and aligning itself with our enemies. But that was in spite of American foreign policy.

In Europe, as in the Middle East, our foreign policy during Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State was to undermine our friends and cater to our enemies.

The famous "reset" in our foreign policy with Russia began with the Obama administration reneging on a pre-existing American commitment to supply defensive technology to shield Poland and the Czech Republic from missile attacks. This left both countries vulnerable to pressures and threats from Russia — and left other countries elsewhere wondering how much they could rely on American promises.

Even after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Obama administration refused to let the Ukrainians have weapons with which to defend themselves. President Obama, like other presidents, has made his own foreign policy. But Hillary Clinton, like other Secretaries of State, had the option of resigning if she did not agree with it. In reality, she shared the same flawed vision of the world as Obama's when they were both in the Senate.

Both of them opposed the military "surge" in Iraq, under General David Petraeus, that defeated the terrorists there. Even after the surge succeeded, Hillary Clinton was among those who fiercely denied initially that it had succeeded, and sought to discredit General Petraeus, though eventually the evidence of the surge's success became undeniable, even among those who had opposed it.

The truly historic catastrophe of American foreign policy — not only failing to stop Iran from going nuclear, but making it more difficult for Israel to stop them — was also something that happened on Hillary Clinton's watch as Secretary of State.

What the administration's protracted and repeatedly extended negotiations with Iran accomplished was to allow Iran time to multiply, bury and reinforce its nuclear facilities, to the point where it was uncertain whether Israel still had the military capacity to destroy those facilities.

There are no offsetting foreign policy triumphs under Secretary of State Clinton. Syria, China and North Korea are other scenes of similar setbacks.

The fact that many people are still prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, in times made incredibly dangerous by the foreign policy disasters on her watch as Secretary of State, raises painful questions about this country.

A President of the United States — any president — has the lives of more than 300 million Americans in his or her hands, and the future of Western civilization. If the debacles and disasters of the Obama administration have still not demonstrated the irresponsibility of choosing a president on the basis of demographic characteristics, it is hard to imagine what could.

With our enemies around the world arming while we are disarming, such self-indulgent choices for president can leave our children and grandchildren a future that will be grim, if not catastrophic.


Anderson County Hits Solid Triple with 2016 Budget

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

It has been nearly a week since Anderson County Council passed the budget for the coming fiscal year, and after looking carefully at the details in the final document over the past week, it looks like council hit a solid triple this year.

No new taxes or fees, that should elate many voters and citizens who are too lazy/apathetic to vote, almost adequate funding for repairing and maintaining our roads and, finally, meaningful raises for law enforcement officers and 911 dispatch operators.

Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns and the council members are to be commended for their furious race to the finish line on this budget, which was nothing short of a mess following a second reading which no one seemed to support.

Thank your council person for working in a progressive fashion this year. After years of inadequate funding, many of our roads were headed toward a place where replacement would be cheaper than repair. No longer. While still about $1.5 million short of the perfect funding level, this year's $5.5 million for roads is the best we’ve seen in a very long time.

Also give them a high five for finally recognizing that our men and women who wear badges and answer the “every call could be life or death” phones at the 911 dispatch center, deserved far better than Anderson County has provided for nearly a decade. The raises put in place not only bring starting salaries up close to a level of other counties, but provide substantial raises to our veteran folks who have labored in a severely underpaid state for nearly a decade. The move will also help stop the bleeding of our best front line public servants, and for that we can all sleep easier.

Finally, the only real quibble I have with the budget is it lacks similar raises for long-time employees of the county who are not in the law enforcement division. Granted, those at the bottom of the ladder, some of whom were making less than $18,000 per year, will see a minimum salary of $20,000. Others will benefit from the realignment of pay grades, which is also a good thing, but many of those who have served the county well for years are left with a raise of less than $100 per month after watching their budgets (and sometimes staffs) shrink dramatically over the austere budgets since 2008.

It is likely those additional funds would have required a 2-mil tax hike this year, but that would still be a good investment. Most Andersonians would be willing to pay between $4-$20 a year to see their neighbors who have worked long and well for Anderson County be fairly compensated for their sacrifices and hard work. This oversight could also impact hiring top-notch folks from outside the county to fill future openings.

This misfire is all that keeps this year’s budget from being an uncontested home run.

But a solid triple is a good thing, one that shows progress and a vision for the future of Anderson County. Good work, folks.


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