The Fragmenting of American Society; Erosion of Shared Values Must Cease for the Nation to Endure
Byline: Lawrence P. Grayson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The divergence in opinion about the Employment Nondiscrimination Act being considered by Congress, illustrates a deep and widening divide in the beliefs of the American public. Homosexual rights advocates promote the act as necessary to protect homosexual and transgender persons from employment discrimination. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups state that it would jeopardize religious freedom, have an adverse effect on the privacy and associational rights of others and lead to the redefinition of marriage.
Such polar differences, which occur on many national issues, threaten the social compact underlying America. The unity of this nation as a constitutional republic is based on civic understandings rooted in shared moral precepts. When the Constitution was adopted, it did not set forth idealized principles for the nation. Rather, it codified existing beliefs and desires of the people. Those beliefs, though not necessarily stated, were embodied in ways of behavior, implicit values and the collective way of life of the people. If the written Constitution had not been in agreement with them, it would not have worked.
For 223 years, the Constitution has served the American people well. While assuring stability and continuity through an adherence to the written decrees, it has adapted to changing social conditions through the process of amendments. As long as the social compact remained in place and there was compatibility between the written Constitution and the unwritten persuasions of the people, the system worked. When severe disagreements arose in the mid-1800s, with strongly opposing views about the right of states to secede from the union, the social compact was fractured, and it took a Civil War to settle the question and keep the nation united.
Today, the social compact is once again being strained. There are deep divisions among the people as to what America stands for. One side believes in individual initiative, personal responsibility, equality of opportunity, entrepreneurship and limited government. The other side advocates bureaucratic regulation, societal responsibility, equality of results, centralized control and a paternalistic government. One believes in a capitalistic economy and a free-market system to reward individual achievement, the other in regulated commerce and a redistributionist system to promote social justice. One believes in equality under the law, the other in fairness under the law. One side believes in the innate dignity of every human being, the protection of life from conception to natural death and in marriage as only between one man and one woman, the other in dignity being conferred when one can function as a person, in the right of a woman to abort her own child and marriage as a civil right among consenting adults regardless of gender. …