There has been no shortage of commentary on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France and one recurring theme for Americans has been a re-commitment to the principles expressed in the first amendment to our constitution.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
We do not violently suppress the speaking of any opinion and we are committed to living peacefully together even with those who disagree with us on our most fundamental and essential convictions.
This commitment has allowed us (with a few, notable exceptions) to avoid both the religious violence that had caused many of our forefathers to originally flee Europe (that apparently still plagues France) and also the anti-religious violence of the French Revolution and mid 20th century Europe.
There, of course, has always been tension. From the abolition of slavery to the prohibition of alcohol Americans have argued over how to make their laws more just while their fundamental beliefs and convictions led them to different conclusions about what justice entails.
But while tensions have arisen in the pursuit of justice those tensions were limited, kept in check, by the shared belief that not every single problem facing society had to be addressed through the force of law. Everyone wanted the law to be just but Americans used to believe that courage, love, piety, friendship, reverence, honesty and a thousand other virtues were necessary to improve society and that these virtues were not within the purview of legislation. This left some problems without a legislative solution and some beliefs (even fundamental ones) on which Americans could disagree without bringing the force of law against each other.
In recent years, however, the left’s notion of justice has expanded to include every whim that appeals to them and every aspect of society. Could it be allowed that some people would pay for their own contraceptives out of their own wages? Absolutely not, the left has been quite insistent that such a terrible injustice cannot stand and if The Little Sisters Of The Poor will not buy contraceptive coverage than they will not be allowed to nefariously continue to provide hospice care for the indigent. Do you believe that children are better off with both a mother and a father? Such a belief cannot be allowed to influence your charitable work on behalf of orphans or such work will no longer be allowed. Did you once write a book in which you expressed agreement with the half of the country that dissents from left-wing orthodoxy on sexual morality? Justice demands that you lose your job as a fire chief.
The nation is harmed when every little detail of every insurance plan, every adoption, even every opinion must be monitored for compatibility with one ideology. In the short term the nation risks the loss of the services provided by nuns doing hospice work, by non-profits facilitating adoptions and by a good fireman. In the long term we’re creating an environment where every disagreement must be resolved through the force of law and peaceful disagreement on fundamental values simply cannot persist.
There will always be disagreements over how the law must be changed to be made more just. Those disagreements will always be driven by the fundamental beliefs and convictions that each of us hold. But all of us have an interest in maintaining a country where we can live in peace even with those who hold different beliefs and convictions, so all of us have an interest in keeping government as small as justice will allow.