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CONSTITUTION

by Kevin Carey

Day One

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Following a visit to the USA, KEVIN CAREY questions the contemporary relevance of its legal system.

High over Minneapolis, not quite overwhelmed by the apartment technology of the sink garbage gobbler, air conditioner, humidifier and by desultory transactions on the Internet, a quite remarkable discussion broke upon my consciousness from the television in the corner.

In the most technically advanced, self assured country on earth, a cleric of some sort was maintaining that 'Creationism' be taught in class alongside evolutionary theory.

I soon became aware of an intensely interesting debate between the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the science populariser, Stephen J. Gould. They were debating the 6-4 decision of the Kansas School Board not to award credits for school work on 'The Big Bang' and evolutionary theory.

Gould's first point, which he made much more politely than I will, was that Falwell either has never read or does not understand Darwin, or even the excellent recent biography by Desmond and Moore which conclusively shows that the only event which shook Darwin's Christian faith was the death of his eldest daughter, Annie, in tragic circumstances.

For Darwin The Origin of Speciesdid not call into question the existence of a Supreme Being, as taught by the Anglican church, it simply threw out Bishop Ussher's tabulation of the creation at 4004 BC. In fact it was Darwin's geology which threw out the Bishop's calculations before he turned to biological evolution.

That Darwin waited almost two decades between framing his evolutionary theory and publishing it, however, says a lot for his fear of critics like the Rev. Falwell; and without the threat of the imminent publication of an almost identical theory by Alfred Wallace he might never have brought himself to it.

More strangely, Falwell seems not to have read the Book of Genesis which contains two sequential but contradictory accounts of the creation.

Gould's second point was that as he did not ask to preach in Falwell's pulpit he did not expect Falwell to preach in science classes in a God-acknowledging but constitutionally denominationally neutral country.

Falwell's major point was the old fallacy that if humans have not observed something with their own eyes it cannot be cited as a fact; we all did that one at school: "If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and nobody sees it fall, did it fall?"

Come on Jerry, you can do better than that!

Who, using Falwell's own criterion of fact, saw all those acts of creation before Adam was created?

Much more dangerous, however, was his second proposition that parents should be allowed to vote on what their children are taught. This is particularly dangerous because although Falwell's adherents are emphatically not biological Darwinians they are assuredly social Darwinians, explicitly believing in the superiority of the Caucasian over the Jew and the Negro. Which might explain why a Jewish high school student in Tennessee has been forbidden to wear the Star of David because it might be interpreted as a "Gang Emblem". The Nazis, on the other hand, enforced the wearing of the Star rather than concealment, to which we will return in due course.

At least there is a degree of consistency in what I have reported so far but forbidding a high school girl in Oklahoma to remain in extra-curricular activities such as choir and prayer groups unless she submits herself to random drug testing is surreal. This is simply an extension of the declared constitutionality of random drug testing for school athletes. Put this next to a court decision in Indiana that it is unconstitutional to carry out random drug tests on troublemakers and truants and you have the classically perverse situation where the most likely drug takers are not tested but the least likely are.

Which brings me to my central frustration with all the discussions I heard on all these matters; they did not turn on whether a measure was wise or foolish but simply on whether it was constitutional.

In all these cases the only consoling thought is that if, as some States plan, the Ten Commandments of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are inscribed on the walls of State Schools then the Constitution must permit other religions similar public expression. Then we will have an argument about whether "Similar" is in quantity or kind; one hopes the latter, as the abjurations of the Koran are liberally diffused in a text that would readily take care of most public wall space in a small town school.

Of course, the most obvious constitutional foolishness, is the National Riflemen's Association quoting the Second Amendment in support of the right of citizens to carry firearms. In defence of the poor Constitution, this Amendment makes it absolutely clear that for the maintenance of order the Militia must be allowed to bear arms; the force of this Amendment lies in the abhorrence by the founding fathers of standing armies, inherited (in spades)from the English controversies on the subject in the reign of Stuart monarchs after the English Civil War.

Of course, the unabridged right does not exist; in some States concealment is mandatory on the grounds that those who carry guns perform a public good by leading malcontents to believe that anyone might, in much the same way as speed trap cameras sometimes carry film and sometimes don't; in other States it is mandatory to display your firearm. Behind all this silliness is the central NRA claim that guns must be owned as a deterrent against domestic intrusion, in which case one should simply have the right to pull a gun from under your pillow, fire and put it back again.

Oddly, then, in this country of ultra technology the Constitution would be recognised as sound by Cincinnatus who saved the Roman Republic in the Fifth Century BC before going back to his farm. It is now being mangled and twisted just as Classical Latin must be to accommodate Twentieth Century science. It is not healthy for the world's most powerful country to be the laughing stock of its allies and friends. The Constitution needs a radical overhaul or it will threaten the liberty it was designed to preserve.

A division tool.


KEVIN CAREY is a writer, broadcaster and social entrepreneur. His interests range from the relationship between information technology and social exclusion and the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. He is the director of a UK charity, HumanITy, which combines rigorous social analysis with experimental field projects on learning IT skills through content creation. Educated at Cambridge and Harvard before a spell at the BBC, followed by 15 years in Third World Development, Carey offers a unique perspective on world affairs. He is a politcal theorist, moral philosopher, classical music critic and published poet.

Kevin Carey can be reached via e-mail at "humanity@atlas.co.uk".

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