How Common Sense Succumbed to Rules

Article excerpt

When U.S. Rep. Howard W. "Judge" Smith, Virginia Democrat, chairman of the House Rules Committee, stuck the word "sex" in the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a prohibited form of discrimination, he did not know that 32 years later 6-year-old Johnathan Prevette would be suspended from school in Lexington, N.C., for giving a 6-year-old female classmate a kiss on the cheek. Judge Smith, however, should have known. As a jurist and legislator, he was no doubt familiar with Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo's observation that law unfolds to the limit of its logic or illogic as the case may be.

Judge Smith offered his amendment as a joke to illustrate the kind of heavy-handed intrusions into private life that the Civil Rights Act would bring. He must have been even more convinced that his colleagues did not know what they were doing when his joke passed and became U.S. law.

[Ten days after Master Prevette was suspended, a 7-year-old New York boy suffered a similar fate. De'Andre Dearinge was suspended for five days this week for sexual harassment after he kissed a classmate and pulled a button off her skirt at a public school in Queens, the New York Daily News reported Wednesday.]

Another famous conservative, Justice Clarence Thomas, helped prepare the groundwork for Master Prevett's travail. When he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan administration, Mr. Thomas supported "sexual harassment" as a civil rights violation.

Mr. Thomas was the first high-profile victim of this regulatory excess when his former protege, Anita Hill, was enlisted by liberal Democrats in an effort to block his appointment to the Supreme Court with sex harassment accusations. Still, as recent as 1991, when JusticeThomas was confirmed after a difficult struggle, sexual harassment remained a grown-up matter, confined to those with sexual feelings.

It only took five more years for school systems to formulate regulations applying sexual harassment to the innocent asexual interactions of little children. The pitiful schoolteacher who witnessed the forbidden kiss and rushed to inform the principal of the regulatory infraction might be a radical feminist committed to stamping out phallocentric behavior wherever she imagines it to be, and the foolish school principal might be a bureaucratic caricature, but the regulation of the behavior of schoolchildren under the Civil Rights Act is the result of people passing laws and issuing regulations without understanding their consequences. …