February 10, 2002
Very few things are as annoying as the dismissive tone of liberal commentators when they chide legislators for wasting time and energy on trivial matters like deciding whether "In God We Trust" can be displayed in public buildings. These issues are hardly trivial.
The elitist opinionmakers insist that legislative time should be spent on more important matters like finding money to reduce class size and build additional roads. In their view, fights over symbols and values are a mere diversion.
Surely these commentators understand the power and importance of symbols. They just don't like the symbols being proposed for endorsement.
They fail to appreciate the growing concern among citizens from all walks of life that we are losing our sense of direction. There is a gnawing feeling that as we rush through our lives, we no longer have a collective appreciation of what is most important. What do we value? What binds us together as a people?
Only the willfully blind fail to see that the culture our parents and grandparents took for granted is under assault. For decades now, the Left has been steadily eroding the values and institutions that contributed far more to the strength of our Republic than the formal language of the Constitution and statutes.
Those legislators who are willing to engage the Left in this battle over our culture should be applauded. It is a fight that should be waged.
While the deconstructionists of the Left have been pursuing their strategy of trivializing religious values and undermining the institutions that buttress a culture grounded in Judeo-Christian beliefs, the rest of us have tended to do little or nothing to defend those values and institutions. In large part, this tepid response has been due to the frantic pace of modern life and the lack of organizational strength to match that of the Left. All of that may be changing.
No longer will the ACLU, People for the American Way or other leftist group be left unchallenged when they attack traditional institutions and values. The majority is offended by the changes brought about by countless lawsuits and other assaults by opponents of traditional culture. Public school students may wear satanic symbols, but not symbols of Southern heritage. They may use profanity in public assemblies, but not pray before meals.
Speaking of praying before meals, the recent ruling of a federal district judge barring VMI cadets from continuing a practice of reciting a prayer of thanksgiving at supper in the mess hall has prompted a powerful reaction. What concerns many Virginians is that a court ruling of this sort actually favors one belief over others. A prohibition against recognition of the Deity is a rule in favor of atheism.
The ACLU insists that it is seeking to preserve an American value — separation of Church and State. That is a perversion of history. Banning recognition of God at a state college is hardly what was intended by the First Amendment.
As a result of court rulings of this sort, the public square has been tilted against religion and in favor of those who are offended by any mention of God. There are several ways to reverse this. We can continue to fight in the courts. We can amend the Constitution. Or we can reduce the size of the public square, leaving more and more to private choice.
Meanwhile, let's find out where our legislators stand.
Mr. McSweeney practices law in the City of Richmond where he was born in 1943. In January 2009, he convened a meeting of more than 200 Virginians, which led to the formation of Restore the Founders’ Vision, a non-profit civic education initiative. He has four adult children. He resides with his wife, Wendy, in Powhatan County, Virginia.