Sometimes upholding a Constitutional imperative is more important than the politics of the day

March 21, 2023 4:24 am

Montana’s state capitol photographed as it snows on March 10, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

Recently, the Daily Montanan carried a commentary by Jim Smith entitled “The Montana Legislature: Helping you run every aspect of your sin-filled life.”

In it, Smith attacks efforts by the legislature to pass laws which would limit the  teaching of LGBTQIA+ lifestyles and critical race theory to our children in public schools. He lumps everyone who disagrees with him into a single category: They are either evil-minded Republicans or religious zealots who believes in a hateful God.  

I, for one, am not a Republican and I am not particularly religious, but I still support efforts to limit the teaching of these cultural subjects to our children in public schools. I believe Montanans have legitimate good faith reasons for their opposition. Moreover, limitations are wholly consistent with America’s longstanding traditions and Constitutional principles. Finally, making ad hominem attacks against everyone who, like me, holds these views is divisive, wasteful and dangerous.  

First, Montanans can fully believe consenting adults have the right to have sexual relationships with whomever they want regardless of sex and still believe t our public schools should not be teaching and encouraging LBGTQIA+ lifestyles.  Maybe, they believe sexual relationships should not be taught to elementary age children at all. Or, as parents, they believe schools should not be allowed to teach their children it is OK to transition to the opposite sex. Or, they might have problems with biological males, who say they are females, competing with their daughters in sports—including stripping down in locker rooms with their daughters. Just because Montanans hold these views does not make them evil minded Republicans or people who believe in a hateful God.  

Moreover, Montanans do not have to be racist to disagree with critical race theory and its associated doctrines being taught to children in public schools. They might, for instance, disagree with the theory that America’s Declaration of  Independence from England in 1776 was racially motivated or that our nation’s  founding was actually 1619. They might believe it is wrong to teach children American heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George  Washington were racists who must be vilified and canceled. They might also believe it is wrong to teach children that white people are inherently racist and are only successful because our institutions are racially prejudiced. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that Montanans are not ipso facto evil Republicans or  people who believe in a hating God, just because they disagree with Mr. Smith’s views.  

Second, teaching cultural beliefs that contradict the good faith beliefs of  parents is on shaky Constitutional grounds. This is not just me talking.

“In a long line of cases, (the United States Supreme Court has) held that, in addition to the  specific freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the ‘liberty’ specially protected  by the Due Process Clause includes the right . . . to direct the education and  upbringing of one’s children.

“…The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurturing and upbringing of  their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.

“… It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder.”

That is from the U.S. Supreme Court case, Troxel vs. Granville (2000). 

Thus, for instance, if Montana parents have religious or philosophical beliefs that sex is biologically determined at birth, they have a fundamental liberty to teach  their point of view to their children and the state has a Constitutional obligation to neither “supply nor hinder” those teachings.

If parents believe the white race is not inherently racist or that the present generation is not responsible for the alleged racial shortcomings of generations before us, they have a right to teach that to their children as well. The state cannot constitutionally interfere by teaching otherwise.  

Whether Republican or Democrat, our legislators are required to take action whenever public schools unconstitutionally interfere with the legitimate upbringing of children by their parents. So is our governor and courts.

This is because they all must take a solemn Constitutional oath “to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the state of Montana.”

This does not make them evil partisan politicians, racists or hateful religious zealots. Maybe they are just trying to comply with their oath (even if their personal views may differ).  

As should be apparent from the above, my beef with Mr. Smith is his vilification of everyone who disagrees with his views—not his right to express  them, which, like parental rights, is of high Constitutional importance.  Ridiculing, insulting and accusing people of being evil and hateful simply because they disagree with you is a form of cancel culture. It is not a debate on the merits.  It is tactic to avoid a debate on the merits– to make people afraid to speak up or shame them into shutting up. It stifles free speech. It does not matter if the attacker is a Democrat, Republican or something else, the tactic is just plain wrong. 

Personal attacks are also dangerous. They breed resentment and even hate.  They divide us and waste our energies at the very time we Montanans and Americans need to unite on existential threats to our way of life and world, such as the vast and ever-growing disparity between rich and poor; the ever-increasing risk of nuclear war and the government corruption that allows and perhaps encourages these follies to exist. 

But this is just my opinion, which I hope I have the right to express. 


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