Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 3

From Liberty to an Entitlement Mentality: The Deadly Enticement of Government Help

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.
George Bernard Shaw

I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson

Part 2 is available here.

On January 6, 1941, a mere 11 months before Pearl Harbor would be bombed and America would enter World War 2, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his State of the Union speech.

FDR_in_1933

Later it became known as the “Four Freedoms Speech,” because near the end of his address, Roosevelt upheld “four essential human freedoms”—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. You can read and hear the seminal portion of his presentation on this page. For your convenience, you also can hear it here.

Rockwell-Norman-LOCIn the years that followed, as American soldiers fought valiantly against tyranny around the world, the Four Freedoms motivated the public to support the war effort with money, time, energy, and many other resources. Beloved artist Norman Rockwell, who was in his late forties at the time (in this picture, he is about 27 years old), created an oil painting to represent each one. The images helped raise more than 132 million in war bonds. War is a terrible reality. Combat is horrific beyond words. Rockwell’s images undoubtedly helped Americans look beyond the carnage and sacrifice to focus on the ideals for which soldiers were laying down their lives every day. Later, these same principles would inspire Eleanor Roosevelt’s work on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration includes the Four Freedoms.

Twenty sixteen marks the 75th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s speech. It is perhaps difficult for us to understand the weight that rested on the president’s shoulders when he spoke, but we need to try to appreciate the national climate in the United States as war continued to escalate on the other side of the world. FDR was challenging America’s isolationism. He was making the case for US involvement on the world stage. While engagement would be costly, the end result would be overwhelmingly positive. Go here to gain a broader understanding of the context and impact of Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address. You also might want to watch this You Tube video. In it, Paul Sparrow, the director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, discusses the Four Freedoms speech and its impact.

The Four Freedoms are noble ideals that have stirred human emotion and encouraged millions of people to sacrifice for others—even people they never had met. We do well, however, to examine the Four Freedoms, which essentially are presented as rights, carefully. Certainly we never would want to hinder free expression or worship of God; nor would we wish want or fear on anyone. Still, we need to respond to these freedoms not just with our hearts, but also with our heads. We need to ask about each one, What does this freedom require on the part of a government and its people, and what will be the effects, both intended and unintended, of efforts to secure it? When we answer honestly, we discover a great deal more than our emotions have told us at the outset. Actually, we discover things contrary to what our emotions have said.

Freedom of speech and expression is one of the core principles enshrined in the United States Constitution through the First Amendment.

Freedom of worship also is guaranteed in the First Amendment. We should clarify that when Roosevelt was speaking of freedom of worship in his speech, he was by no means seeking to limit expressions of faith to houses of worship. Before his death, Charles Colson rightly warned against a move on the part of the Obama administration to uphold “freedom of worship” over the broader concept of “freedom of religion.” He urged Christians to be wary of the administration’s choice of words in light of its promotion of the militant LGBT agenda. Thus, the term freedom of worship is limiting in the modern context, while freedom of religion includes the right to practice one’s faith outside church walls—openly and in public. Colson explained he wasn’t referring to Roosevelt’s language: “The use of the term ‘worship’ in those days [around 1941] would not have had the significance it does today.  There were virtually no cases threatening free exercise in the 30s and 40s.  Every school had prayer and Bible studies; the presence of God was firmly lodged in our culture and in our collective consciousness. The rash of cases attacking public expressions of religion began in the late 40s into the 50s, and then hit us like a truck in the 60s.  When Roosevelt used the phrase it was interchangeable. Today it is certainly not.”

We therefore see that these first two freedoms are rights guaranteed in the US Constitution. To secure them, government is primarily required to stay out of the way and to allow people to speak freely and practice their religious faith as they see fit. If citizens hinder or prevent individuals from exercising their rights of speech and worship, government’s role is to penalize them for violating others’ rights. With regard to the first two freedoms, little more is required of government than these things.

To secure freedom of speech and freedom of worship, government is primarily required to stay out of the way and to allow people to speak freely and practice their religious faith as they see fit.

Upon reflection, it isn’t difficult to see that the third freedom—freedom from want—is fundamentally different from the first two. The difference is qualitative; it is not a difference of degree, but of kind. This doesn’t mean Roosevelt wasn’t making a legitimate point in 1941. He said freedom from want in world terms “means economic understanding which will secure to every nation a heathy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.” FDR was right in indicating that economic policies matter. He also was right to speak against those policies of aggressor nations—most notably Germany—who were spending a great deal of money to build a war machine to take over Europe and its people. Even so, while the goal of reducing want was and is laudable, Roosevelt was saying people had a right to be free from want! This assumption gives government a task God never intended it to have. How are people’s needs to be met? According to Scripture, individuals are to work to provide for themselves and their families. Not everyone can; but everyone who can, should. You can take it to the bank: When government becomes engaged in working directly to eliminate want, it almost invariably does so through taxation and redistribution of wealth. This approach stifles creativity and productivity. It effectively kills citizens’ motivation to work hard and grow the national economy. With such motivation, however, a scenario unfolds that helps reduce poverty to a far greater extent than any plan relying on redistribution.

Put another way, want among a nation’s people can be effectively diminished when government, through its laws, encourages productivity and risk-taking, and when it allows the people to keep the larger portion of the money they earn through hard work. This means lower taxes, something President Roosevelt absolutely was not advocating (more on that in a moment). Those who cannot work, for whatever reason, can have their needs met through the generosity of those who can. This is what ought to be encouraged, not only by the government, but also by the church.

Star Parker, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), used to be addicted to welfare, but she now exposes its negative effects. Watch her explain in her own words why government is a terrible benefactor.

The fourth right is much like the third. To secure freedom from fear, government must actively intervene in the lives and the affairs of its people. Do not misunderstand. Nations clearly have a duty to shore up defenses and to use them to keep their people safe from aggressors inside and outside their borders. In this sense, governments are legitimately engaged in minimizing fear.

Beware, however! Treating this as a right means obligating government in ways that empower it to interfere in people’s lives! Roosevelt spoke at a time when war was on the horizon, but many fears are not related to war. Just how far will government go to meet its citizens’ right to live fear-free lives? Consider that in business, no one can succeed without taking risks, something that is inherently frightening. So if a government eliminates fear, it eradicates success as well! This is bad enough, but we’re actually talking about more than business. The effort to wipe out fear, especially among a national population, inevitably will become a quest without end.

We indicated a moment ago that FDR was not recommending a tax cut. Indeed, he could not, given the last two of the Four Freedoms. While someone can make the case it was legitimate to raise taxes to pay for American involvement in the war—something the president may have felt was inevitable at this point—when speaking of tax increases he talked about a good deal more than a military buildup. Hear and read the president’s statements about the Four Freedoms in the larger context of his speech. This clip represents the last 7 minutes, 48 seconds of the 36-minute presentation.

The following quote frequently is attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, although no evidence exists in his writings it ever originated with him. Nevertheless, whoever said it was absolutely correct. We need to heed this warning and understand its implications.

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

•  From bondage to spiritual faith;
•  From spiritual faith to great courage;
•  From courage to liberty;
•  From liberty to abundance;
•  From abundance to selfishness;
•  From selfishness to complacency;
•  From complacency to apathy;
•  From apathy to dependence;
•  From dependence back into bondage.

When the people of a nation believe they have a right to government “benefits,” they become intoxicated with everything the government is willing to offer. In turn, those in authority become intoxicated with the power they gain as an increasing number of people become dependent upon them. The more government “gives,” the more beholden recipients become. This is how a nation that began with liberty can be led into tyranny.

Again, to secure citizens’ rights of free speech and worship, the government primarily must stay out of people’s way. This is not so with the “rights” to be free of want and fear, nor is it true with a countless number of additional government “benefits” people have become conditioned to expect.

This discussion, I hope, has served to stimulate your thinking about rights. There are two kinds of rights, and in FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, we see both kinds. As we have indicated, the first two rights named by FDR represent a category that government has a legitimate role in working to protect. The last two are different. When a government works to secure for its people rights like these, it actually pushes the nation away from freedom and toward bondage. Let’s make it personal. It is so enticing—yet it is foolish—for us to look to government to provide almost everything. Keep in mind FDR spoke in 1941—75 years ago! Today we have gone so far down this road we even call government handouts entitlements. The term entitlements, of course, is another word for rights—“rights” America’s Founders never intended and never endorsed.

As Richard Henry Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia, once said, “It must never be forgotten…that the liberties of the people are not so safe under the gracious manner of government as by the limitation of power.”

 

It must never be forgotten...that the liberties of the people are not so safe under the gracious manner of government as by the limitation of power. - Richard Henry Lee

Next week, we will talk more specifically about the differences between the two kinds of rights. Be sure to tune in!

Part 4 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Go here to read and listen to Roosevelt’s entire State of the Union address before Congress on January 6, 1941.

Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 2

The Revolutionary War Was Over, but not the Struggle to Establish a Free and Stable Country

For the first time in human experience, the legislative power of a nation was forbidden from legislating the conscience of man.
—Stephen Mansfield on the first ten words of the First Amendment—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”1—

Part 1 is available here.

Last week we highlighted We Hold These Truths, a special radio broadcast written by Norman Corwin to commemorate the 150th birthday of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1941. The program still is important today for many reasons, especially its emphasis on the Founding Fathers’ perspective on rights. The Founders believed that because rights are God-given, government has no authority to take them away. To preserve rights, therefore, government must be prohibited from interfering with individual liberties. The Bill of Rights was created to restrain the federal government of the United States in this way. The historical record of the genesis of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights showcases the Founders’ wisdom in this regard.

After the American Revolution, the thirteen states rejoiced over their independence, but they still were thirteen individual states, each of which, in many ways, acted as an individual country. Previously the war against Great Britain had united these Virginians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Marylanders, and the residents of the other states, but now other matters confronted the new nation. How could the states work together? Could they establish a central government that would acknowledge states’ sovereignty, yet unify the states to address the issues that would confront them all?2

An attempt was made in the Articles of Confederation. This document was drafted under the authority of the Second Continental Congress, which appointed a committee to begin the work on July 12, 1776. In the latter part of 1777, a document was sent to the states for ratification. All the states had approved it in the early part of 1781. The states now had a new central government, but it wasn’t long before problems arose. The national government was too weak. It had no executive authority and no judiciary. Too high a hurdle had been established for the passage of laws. Furthermore, the states had their own monetary systems, so understandably, buying and selling across state lines became difficult. Without free trade between the states, the national economy was severely hindered. In western Massachusetts in 1786, an uprising occurred when some farmers found that money they had been paid when they were Revolutionary War soldiers wasn’t valid tender for their taxes. The central government was powerless to bring order, although stability eventually was restored anyway. The uprising, which became known as Shays’ Rebellion, was a wake-up call for the entire country. The Articles had to be fixed.3

Accordingly, the states were asked to send their representatives to Philadelphia in May of 1787. This meeting become the Constitutional Convention. Delegates soon realized they shouldn’t try to fix the Articles of Confederation but needed to replace it altogether. The Convention met from May 25 to September 17, 1787. George Washington served as its president. Fifty-five delegates in all worked together to draft a constitution that would effectively address the problems the Articles of Confederation had failed to resolve. As you can tell from the timetable, the task was not easy. At one point when impasses seemed insurmountable, Benjamin Franklin stood to implore the assembly to pray regularly for God’s help in the deliberative process. Here is a dramatic presentation, along with music, relating what occurred. Here is a brief speech about the event. The task remained formidable, but consensus was indeed reached and signatures affixed, and the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification.

One of the Constitution’s brilliant provisions was the division of the government into three separate branches so as to prevent leaders from seizing absolute power. Moreover, this model has its roots in Scripture.

Another issue related to states’ representation in lawmaking. Some delegates said all the states should have an equal say in the making of laws, while others contended that the larger ones should have a greater voice. Delegates reached a compromise in their design of the legislative branch. The lawmaking arm of the federal government—Congress—was divided into two separate bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Every state would have two senators as well as a population-based delegation of representatives in the House of Representatives. No proposal could become law unless it passed both houses of Congress. Thus, states’ interests and the concerns of the people at large would be adequately represented.4

In any contemporary discussion of the Constitution and the liberties it seeks to protect, the question of slavery will understandably arise. If the Founders believed that “all men are created equal,” how could they have allowed the practice of slavery to continue under the new government? This discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but I would commend these resources to you for further study. Also remember that we need to evaluate our Founders not in light of our own culture, but in light of theirs; America’s “Founders were born into a society that permitted slavery.”5 Despite this, some swam against the tide as they expressed resistance and even opposition to the practice. Yet in the end they realized that forcing the issue at this point likely would have have resulted in an unratified Constitution and a divided nation.6

The truth still remains that in and through the Constitution, the Founders set the stage for slavery eventually to be abolished in the United States. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t happen until after a bloody civil war had ended nearly a hundred years later. Nevertheless, it did happen, and the principles upon which America was founded paved the way for slavery’s demise.

On the last day of the convention as delegates were affixing their signatures to the newly drafted Constitution, Benjamin Franklin reflected aloud regarding the image of the sun carved and painted on the back of George Washington’s chair. Was it a rising or a setting sun? Franklin said, “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I…know that it is a rising…sun.”

With consensus reached among delegates, the support of the people now was needed. Actually, it was essential. As it then stood, the Constitution wasn’t law, but only a proposal. Ratification required formal approval from nine of the thirteen states. Those who believed in a strong national government—a group called the Federalists—supported the Constitution strongly. Anti-federalists, however, were great in number, and typically they opposed the Constitution because it did not have a bill of rights.

Take just over 15 minutes to watch this video about the drafting and ratification of the US Constitution—and how the Bill of Rights became a part of it. Be aware that contributors include individuals with whom we strongly would disagree about certain public policy issues today. For example, Theodore Olson is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage and has worked to advance it, even arguing in favor if it before the Supreme Court in 2013. Susan Herman, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a contributor as well. Even so, this particular video is enlightening and informative from a historical perspective.

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen summarize the first ten amendments to the Constitution in their landmark work, A Patriot’s History of the United States:  

The First Amendment combined several rights—speech, press, petition, assembly, and religion—into one fundamental law guaranteeing freedom of expression. While obliquely related to religious speech, the clear intent was to protect political speech.…However, the Founders hardly ignored religion, nor did they embrace separation of church and state, a buzz phrase that never appears in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. [James] Madison [who is considered the Father of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights] had long been a champion of religious liberty.…[He] rejected the notion that the exercise of faith originated with government, while at the same time indicating that he expected a continual and ongoing practice of religious worship.…Modern interpretations of the Constitution that prohibit displays of crosses in the name of religious freedom would rightly have been shouted down by the Founders, who intended no such separation.

James_Madison_Portrait2

James Madison

The Second Amendment addressed Whig fears of a professional standing army by guaranteeing the right of citizens to arm themselves and join militias. Over the years, the militia preface has become thoroughly (and often, deliberately) misinterpreted to imply that the framers intended citizens to be armed only in the context of an army under the authority of the state. In fact, militias were the exact opposite of a state-controlled army: the state militias taken together were expected to serve as a counterweight to the federal army, and the further implication was that citizens were to be as well armed as the government itself! The Third Amendment buttressed the right of civilians against the government military by forbidding the [government forced] quartering (housing) of professional troops in private homes.

AP_Documents_BillofRights

Amendments Four through Eight promised due process via reasonable bail, speedy trials (by a jury of peers if requested), and habeas corpus petitions. They forbade self-incrimination and arbitrary search and seizure, and proclaimed, once again, the fundamental nature of property rights. The Ninth Amendment, which has lain dormant for two hundred years, states that there might be other rights not listed in the amendments that are, nevertheless, guaranteed by the Constitution. But the most controversial amendment, the Tenth, echoes the second article of the Articles of Confederation in declaring that the states and people retain all rights and powers not granted to the national government by the Constitution. It, too, has been relatively ignored.7

Then Schweikart and Allen make this critically important observation, a principle that America needs to rediscover today.

These ten clear statements were intended by the framers as absolute limitations on the power of government, not on the rights of individuals. In retrospect, they more accurately should be known as the Bill of Limitations on government to avoid the perception that the rights were granted by government in the first place.8

The above video highlights the distrust of government on the part of the people—especially those who actively fought in the Revolutionary War. The citizens demanded a bill of rights. Although it already had been ratified, the Constitution was accepted when the Bill of Rights, which placed limits on the federal government, was proposed. We thus see that there was, in the minds of this first generation of US citizens (not just the Founders), a direct relationship between the thriving of personal liberties (rights) and restrictions that kept the federal government from intervening in people’s lives.

This truth is echoed in many places. Here is a sampling.

  • On its page on the Bill of Rights, the Bill of Rights Institute acknowledges, “One of the many points of contention between Federalists and Anti-Federalists [when the Constitution was debated] was the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights that would place specific limits on government power.…The Bill of Rights is a list of limits on government power.”
  • The American Center for Law and Justice affirms, “The Bill of Rights illustrates that our Founders understood that for personal freedoms to be broad, the power of the federal government must be limited.”
  • Lamenting the departure of the Founders’ understanding of rights, David Barton of Wallbuilders writes, “Sadly, in recent years some federal courts have…declared that ‘The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the majority,’ yet this is ridiculous. No individual is to lose his or her right to free speech, self-defense, the rights of religious conscience, or any other right simply because he or she happens to be in the majority rather than a minority. To the contrary, the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights were all based on the philosophy that government is to protect the God-given rights of every individual, whether they are in the majority or the minority, from the encroachments of government.”
  • Of special significance are these words from the Preamble to the Bill of Rights itself. “THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution” (emphasis added).

Again, rights and liberties are preserved when government is restricted from forcing individuals to act in certain specific ways. This does not negate the validity of general laws that require or prohibit specific actions for societal cohesion and stability. Constitutional rights can coexist with these statutes. What they cannot coexist with are laws that, in the name of extending rights to all, violate the Constitutional rights of others.

Here’s just one all-too-common example affecting a great many people: Laws and policies that force people like the florist, the baker, the photographer, the artist, and the venue operator to lend their property, time, talent, and other resources to the celebration of a same-sex union against their consciences clearly are not about expanding rights to all people.

  • First, no one desiring these services for a same-sex ceremony would have any difficulty finding them, so their “right” to any or all of these services isn’t being denied. These laws, therefore, don’t protect the vulnerable. How are advocates of same-sex marriage vulnerable if they easily can secure the services they want?
  • Second, generally speaking, bakers and others aren’t refusing to sell their goods or services to homosexuals; they simply don’t want to be forced to participate in a ceremony that violates their deeply held views on marriage.
  • Third, rather than leveling the playing field, laws that force participation in same-sex ceremonies give the proponents of same-sex marriage a legal wedge to coerce those with whom they disagree to celebrate with them. Christian merchants, therefore, can easily be targeted and punished for their beliefs. Whatever happened to the provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”?
  • Fourthly and finally, such laws represent the antithesis of the philosophy of rights reflected in the first ten amendments of the Constitution—the Bill of Rights. They empower government rather than limit it, and they embolden government to force compliance on one side of an issue still being widely debated on the national stage.

So you see, we’ve traveled a great distance from the Founders’ view of individual rights and liberties in this country. We’ve even come to embrace a philosophy opposed to theirs. Next week, we will explore how we got here; we’ll consider the subtle way in which Americans have been enticed to depart from the Founders’ perspective on rights and liberty. Once we realize how we departed from where we started, we will be better able to return to the place where we began.

Part 3 is available here.

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Notes:

1Stephen Mansfield, Then Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America and What’s Happened Since, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), xvi.

2Marilyn Prolman, The Story of the Constitution, (Chicago: Childrens Press, 1969), 6-8.

3Prolman, 13-15.

4Prolman, 19-20.

5William J. Bennett, America, the Last Best Hope—Volume 1: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 122.

6Bennett, 122-123.

7Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, (New York: Sentinel, 2004), 125-126.

8Schweikart and Allen, 126.

Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 1

A History Lesson from the Golden Age of Radio

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….
The United States Declaration of Independence, 1776—

A condensed version of this article is available here.

Norman Corwin (1910-2011) has been called the poet laureate of radio. The title is fitting, because during the 1930s and 1940s, he used his writing talent and other creative abilities to produce radio dramas that addressed serious issues in engaging, entertaining ways. Among the first to take this approach, Corwin also was prolific.

The thirties and forties, you may know, were part of an era called “the golden age of radio.” This period began in the early 1920s when radio programming initially captured the public’s imagination and lasted until the mid-to-late 1950s, when television became the medium of choice for drama. Radio survived, but its dramatic programs were replaced largely by music. Those of us who have lived most of our lives after radio’s golden age will do well to develop an appreciation for the medium’s influence over American life, especially during the heart of the period—the 30s and 40s. In 1947, a professional survey found that 82 percent of Americans listened to radio regularly.

Norman Corwin grew up in Massachusetts. Although he initially worked as a newspaper journalist, he still was in his early adult years when he found his niche in radio. Corwin became both a beneficiary and a catalyst of the medium’s growing popularity. One job led to another, and on April 25, 1938, he began working for CBS as a program director. Initially he directed Living History, a 15-minute program that aired on Wednesday evenings; Americans at Work, a 30-minute program airing Thursday evenings; and Adventures in Science, a 15-minute program airing on Friday evenings.

Additional directing opportunities followed, including that of directing The Red Badge of Courage for Columbia Workshop, a highly regarded series. It was a huge break! Other successes followed, and the producer soon was given his own showNorman Corwin’s Words Without Music. The goal of the program, Corwin said, would be to make poetry more enjoyable. One week before the Christmas show was to air, Corwin was asked what he had in mind for holiday episode. Off the top of his head, he replied, “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas.” Corwin realized that no such poem existed and that he would have to write the program from scratch. He did so, impressing both his listeners and coworkers, Edward R. Murrow among them. You can hear and download a rebroadcast of “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas” here. Interestingly, when he hired Corwin to work for CBS, vice-president William B. Lewis didn’t know he also was hiring a writer.

The months that followed afforded Norman Corwin many additional opportunities to write, direct, and produce dramatic audio programs. In 1941 he had the responsibility for Columbia Workshop for just over six straight months—26 weeks. These programs, which began on May 4 and concluded on November 9, came to be known as “26 by Corwin.” Norman Corwin was a major player in radio, yet ironically, following the series, CBS decided to let him go.

Former CBS vice-president William B. Lewis, the man who had given Corwin a job at the network, now was working at the Office of Facts and Figures in Washington D.C. His job was related to the growing war effort, even though the US had not yet entered the war. Keenly aware of the national calendar, President Roosevelt tossed out the idea to Archibald MacLeish,1 who was director of the Office of Facts and Figures, that radio would be a great platform for a national celebration of the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. That anniversary would occur on December 15, 1941. Lewis heard about the idea and suggested Corwin to spearhead it. The website that honors Corwin today gives this account.

At first Corwin resisted, having burned himself out on 26 by Corwin and feeling the sting of defeat by not being retained by CBS, but Lewis persisted. Finally, Corwin accepted and headed to Washington DC, arriving on November 17, 1941, to begin research for the program in the Library of Congress—a mere 26-days before the broadcast. Then he came down with the flu; still he persisted. On December 4, 1941, with the script three-quarters complete, Corwin got on the Century train bound for Los Angeles, where the bulk of the show would originate. While en route, on December 7, 1941, Corwin learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The show, he was informed, was now even more vital to a nation newly at war.

In an interview in 2004, Norman Corwin recalled the program and the events that led up to its airing.

 

Most of the country’s radio stations carried the program. An arrangement had been made for all four of the major radio networks—CBS, Mutual, NBC-Red and NBC-Blue [NBC was organized as 2 networks at the time]—to broadcast it. On the east coast it aired at 7:00 p.m. and on the west coast at 10 p.m. The birthday celebration originated, not just from Hollywood, but also from Washington, DC and New York. Even President Roosevelt participated. Riding a tide of intense patriotism, Americans gave We Hold These Truths the largest radio audience in history for a dramatic performance. Nearly half the US population—63 million people—tuned in.

Norman Corwin won a George F. Peabody Award for the show. He also was reinstated at CBS, where he would remain until 1949. And in 1993, the writer-producer-director was admitted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. As for We Hold These Truths, it was recognized as recently as 2005 when it was named to the National Recording Registry.

Here are a couple of interesting side notes about We Hold These Truths.

The first of two major narration parts began as Jimmy Stewart highlighted the sights and sounds of Washington, DC. Stewart was perfect for this role, given that just two years earlier, he had played Jefferson Smith in the 1939 Frank Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonFor playing Smith, Stewart earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor; but in the end, Robert Donat won this award for his role as Charles Edward Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. As you may recall, many consider 1939 Hollywood’s finest year.

Mr-Smith-Filabuster-1939

Claude Rains and James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Orson Welles took the sound stage for the second major narration part. During the dress rehearsal for the program Welles began using his voice modestly, gradually increased in intensity, and brought his speech to a powerful crescendo at the end.

Orson_Welles_1937

Orson Welles in 1937

The cast was riveted and applauded Welles when he finished, but Norman Corwin was concerned. Would Welles be able to return to the ground floor before he started talking on the actual broadcast? Leonard Maltin writes, “Welles started out at the fever pitch at which he’d concluded the rehearsal—and then had nowhere to go, vocally or emotionally. The show still is impressive today, but Welles’ narration sounds overwrought.”2

You can listen to and download Norman Corwin’s birthday celebration for the Bill of Rights from this page, and I recommend highly that you do. For your convenience, you also can hear it here.

Why is We Hold These Truths so important?

  • First, it reflects a depth of understanding of freedom and civil order that has eluded us today. Leonard Maltin writes,

Like all of Corwin’s best work, it [We Hold These Truths] was built on a foundation of genuine curiosity and the quest for knowledge—about the nature of the Bill of Rights, how it came about, and how it affected people. Corwin was never one to take the easy or obvious road, nor was he given to cheap sentiment. He celebrated what was best about America by showing its flaws as well as its strengths, by refusing to duck issues and controversies that had always surrounded the amendments to the Constitution.3

  • Yet a second and even more important reason to rediscover this radio program is Americans’ need to become familiar with what actually happened in history with regard to their nation’s inception. Today as never before, history is being rewritten, and as a result American liberties are increasingly at risk.
  • Thirdly and finally—and this is absolutely crucial—modern Americans need to rediscover the Founders’ perspective on rights. We see their perspective on rights in the Bill of Rights—all through the first Ten Amendments to the US Constitution. The Founders’ view contrasts sharply to the modern view. Simply put, to the Founders, rights were God-given and were maintained when government was restrained. Unfortunately, most people today believe rights are theirs when the government intervenes in their lives in preferred ways; they thus believe that government is the source of rights. We’ll explore this contrast in a future post.

To the Founders, rights were God-given and were maintained when government was restrained. 

Next week, we’ll provide some historical background; we’ll examine how the Constitution came to be, and how the Bill of Rights became a part of it.

Stay tuned—or, as they used to say decades ago on radio, don’t touch that dial!

Part 2 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Notes:

1John Dunning, The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 165.

2Leonard Maltin, The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio’s Golden Age, (New York: New American Library, 1997), 125.

3Maltin, 46.

Congress Should Express Outrage Over the Obama Administration’s Bullying to Promote a Radical Agenda

As North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory recently has stated, the fight over privacy rights no longer is confined to North Carolina.

Recent developments in the Tar Heel State and elsewhere show that the Obama administration will do anything to force its radical agenda nationwide. This administration must be stopped.

Members of Congress must speak up loudly and often!

Won’t you contact your members of Congress on this issue?

Read more…

Read an expanded version of this report…

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

The Urgent Call to Prayer—and Repentance

We are a people and nation in imminent danger. We mock God, ridicule His Word and His ways, and flaunt gross immorality.
—Franklin Graham1

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways, and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Isaiah 55:6-7

This is a special week marked by prayer. In Tennessee, two events are underscoring prayer’s importance and urging people to cry out to God on behalf of America.

The first of these took place on May 3. In the Decision America Tour, Franklin Graham, son of well-known evangelist Billy Graham, is traveling to the capitals of each of the 50 states and holding prayer rallies for the nation. While Graham has boldly proclaimed that America’s only hope in is God, he also is encouraging Christians to participate in the political process and to stand firm for biblical truth and godly principles, regardless of their political party. Last year he announced the tour.

As you can see, Graham is heavily burdened for our country. In the May issue of Decision magazine, which is published 11 times a year by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, he writes,

There is no doubt that the tens of thousands who have attended [Decision America Tour rallies thus far] know that America is in deep trouble and on the verge of moral collapse—unless God intervenes.…

Never before have I seen such a sharp rift in the moral and spiritual fabric of our country. The Cross of Christ has become the deep divide between a growing segment of our population that no longer fears God and those who follow Christ as Lord and Savior.

In this secular age, the influence of Biblical principles and values has diminishing impact upon education, government and politics. More young people than ever before claim no religious affiliation at all. We Christians are not just simply tolerated—we are under constant, unrelenting assault for our beliefs and practices.…

I wonder if the handwriting is now on the wall for America. Has God decided that our idolatry, immorality and godlessness has become such a stench in His nostrils that we as a people will experience a harsh form of divine judgment? Have our iniquities grown so foul and vast that we will reap the bitter harvest of our wickedness and rebellion against Almighty God?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do believe that God is able to restore and heal us if we repent of our sins—personal and corporate—and turn to Him in humility and reverence. The Bible tells us that the Lord is patient toward us, “not willing that nay should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV).2

On Tuesday, May 3, 2016, the Decision America Tour came to Nashville, Tennessee. The vast crowd, which is estimated to have been more than 8,600, is pictured at the top of this post.

Franklin Graham led the group in a series of prayers for the United States of America that included a prayer of repentance. What are some of our nation’s sins? Graham mentioned abortion, same-sex marriage, and gender confusion as reflective of a nation that has departed from God’s divine laws and plan. Homosexuality, he lamented, is celebrated and flaunted in our streets. He’s right. Even the federal government is participating in this defiance of God’s law, not only by commemorating and celebrating homosexuality and gay rights, but also by seeking to punish North Carolina for trying to keep men out of women’s restrooms! How low can we descend? I use the pronoun we because this isn’t a responsibility shouldered by the Obama administration alone. It’s a national problem. When Christians are silent about issues like this, we become complicit. We cannot shake our fist in God’s face and then expect Him to bless us as a nation.

Graham further lamented that prayer no longer is allowed in public schools and that the Ten Commandments no longer can be posted in classrooms. Essentially he said we’ve kicked God out of public life, so it’s no wonder we’re facing the challenges we are facing. Our only hope is to return to Almighty God!

He also said,

I’ve had people tell me, “Franklin, America’s gone too far.”

Oh, really? Not if the church comes together and begins to pray! God uses prayer! God gave favor to Nehemiah [as he led a contingent of God’s people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem], and God will give us favor here today! You see, the moral and political walls of our nation are crumbling. Walls are meant for protection, to keep bad people out. Gates can be open, and when threats come, gates can be closed. Our moral walls are down. Any type of wicked thought and activity and teaching can come and go. And our educators, our politicians, and many of our churches, sad to say, are more concerned about political correctness than God’s truth and His righteousness.…3

Christians need to pray, but they need to do more.

You may have come today, and you look at the state of our nation, and you say, “What can we do? What can I do? Be willing, in this next election, to vote! OK? Vote! And vote for candidates that stand for biblical truth and biblical principles, and that are willing to live them.

Some may ask, “Franklin, what would your father have done? Well, I can tell you right now, if my father were my age, and had the strength, he’d be doing exactly the same thing I’m doing. My father said in 1952, “I think it’s the duty of every individual Christian at election time to study the issues and the candidates and then go to the polls and vote.” Listen up, church! He said, “If I were a pastor of a church, I believe I would explain to my people where each candidate stood morally, spiritually, and in relationship to the church.” He said, “I feel that we’re going to have to meet our political obligations as Christians and make our voice known if America is to be preserved with the type of Christian heritage which has given us the liberties and the freedom we now enjoy. For unless America turns back to God, repents of its sin, and experiences spiritual revival, we will fail as a nation.”

I believe God honors leaders in high places who honor Him. Ladies and gentlemen, we need leaders today in high places, we need leaders in public office who’re not afraid or scared to honor Almighty God.4

Here are some highlights of the event from a News 2, WKRN-TV, report (edited slightly for clarity).

“I have zero hope in the Republican Party. I have zero hope in the Democratic Party. The only hope for the United States of America is Almighty God,” Rev. Franklin Graham said.

While not making any endorsements or naming politicians that he might uphold the Christian principles he spoke of, Graham said, [You] “might have to hold your nose on the presidential race,” but “pray to God, then go vote. He will tell you.”

Graham emphasized as well the importance of positions held in local governments such as those of mayor, county commissioners, and city council members. Contests for these offices are vital to changing the tenor and moral climate in America, and they must not be ignored. They need to be filled by godly men and women! The good news is that with God’s mercy and grace as well as the cooperation of His people to uphold his truth in their spheres of influence, there is hope for this nation.

The second of this week’s events is a nationwide observance. Thursday, May 5, is the 65th annual National Day of Prayer. Even though America had observed National Days of Prayer on various occasions before (also see this from WallBuilders), a bill passed Congress in 1952 that called on the president each year to set aside a special day other than Sunday for observing a National Day of Prayer (NDP). President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law and issued a proclamation on June 17, 1952. The first annual NDP took place on Friday, July 4th of that same year. You can read President Truman’s presidential proclamation here. Thirty-six years later, in 1988, an amendment to the law established the first Thursday in May as the nation’s annual NDP.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, a non-profit organization promoting the NDP, chose the theme for this year’s event. It couldn’t be more appropriate. The theme calls out, “Wake Up, America!”

The theme is based on Isaiah 58:1: “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.” This verse is printed on a variety of NDP 2016 promotional materials, including t-shirts, flyers, and posters.

Yet we need to know that these materials carry only part of Isaiah 58:1. The entire verse reads,

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

The prophet goes on to write specifically about those sins. You can read his God-breathed words here. As echoed throughout the rest of Scripture as well as in this passage, repentance is necessary for a rebellious people. While the word repent does not appear in the passage, the idea of repentance is prominent (see vv. 9-10).

God’s people were going through the motions of seeking Him without really doing so. No wonder God also inspired Isaiah to write,

These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13).

As we have affirmed, the theme for NDP 2016 could not be more appropriate. The challenge for Christians is twofold. First, we need to confess our own sins and get right with God, and second, we need to faithfully challenge others to repent, as they will never find real solutions to their problems without turning away from their sins and turning to the Lord for forgiveness and eternal life.

As believers, especially in light of Isaiah 58:1, let us first heed the call to make sure we are genuinely living out our faith and seeking and serving God authentically. This includes confessing our overt disobedience to God—but it also involves asking God for forgiveness of subtle sins, including the sin of allowing our relationship with Him to drift and/or to cool. It is all too easy to “go through the motions” of Christianity without really encountering God. Christian singer and songwriter Don Francisco addresses the need for an authentic and practical faith in “Steeple Song.”

Along these same lines, in a sermon that includes an exposition of Isaiah 58, pastor Ray Steadman (1917-1992) quotes James 1:27:  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Then he says,

Someone has written of this,

Pure religion prompts you
To give Dad a more welcome greeting
when he comes home than the dog.
To know if the postman’s wife is sick.
To put the hymnals back in the rack
to save the janitor work.
To speak kindly to your younger brother.
To iron the dress for your sister.
To listen to the troubles of another.
To give away not the unwanted dress
but the one you might wear again.
To remind the Sunday school superintendent
that Mrs. Smith might like to teach.
To help paint your neighbor’s basement.
To make benches for the beginners’ department.
To call the elevator man by his name.
To be on time for meals.

The acid test is not, “What does my religion do for me?” but, “What does it make me do for others?”

In this day of animosity toward God and righteousness, we as believers never have more desperately needed to practice an authentic faith, which includes loving and serving others and boldly declaring God’s truth. Put another way, it isn’t just with our voices that we must call on America to wake up, but also with transformed lives.

In our prayers on this, the 65th annual National Day of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to enable us to faithfully witness in all of these ways.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Notes:

1Franklin Graham, “Is the Handwriting on the Wall for America?” in Decision magazine, a publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, (Charlotte, NC, May, 2016), 15.

2Graham

3,4For several hours following the Decision America, Nashville Tennessee Prayer Rally, a video of the proceedings was posted here. Quotations were transcribed from that video.

Image credit: Decision America Tour, Nashville, Tennessee

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Bible quotation marked ESV is from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.