A Beauty Queen Looks at Federalism

In a previous post, I presented my perspective on how moral beliefs operate in a republican, federal system of government: If New Hampshire wants to recognize “gay marriage,” perhaps it should be able to. But Alabama, if it does not, should not be forced to go along with the nefarious nuptials simply because it, too, is one of these United States.

Some might respond that permitting New Hampshire to violate God’s law regarding marriage and sexuality is being disobedient, or giving in to decadent cultural forces.

But consider how federalism has operated with respect to abortion.

Many years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided that abortion, in certain circumstances, should be legal. This interpretation of law is considered binding on all the States. (There is considerable weight to the legal opinion that such decisions violate the Constitution’s grant of power to the central government.)

Since that time, sentiment regarding abortion in the seat of central power, Washington D.C., has been intractable. Those who abhorred abortion and lamented the Supreme Court’s decision used the federalist system to their advantage, seeking instead to change public opinion in individual States. In the process, citizens in many States have modified their view of abortion, and their States have severely restricted its legality.

The result of this approach is that public opinion is now decidedly different than it was in 1973. Recent surveys suggest that the number of abortions is at an all-time low, and that for the first time in many years a majority of Americans oppose unrestricted abortion.

Homosexual advocates have been using the same tactic for years, and are seeing the benefits.
So, federalism is a two-edged sword for Christians: opponents of decency and morality can seek to change public opinion and law just as we can. Yet federalism is decidedly better than the alternative. If all such decisions were made in Washington, so that the installation of a new administration or new congressional class changed such fundamental issues for the entire nation every two or four years, change would be constant and radical. The federal system, by contrast, requires that wholesale change be both slow and difficult.

(The appearances of “crises” such as occurred in the Depression, the current economic situation, and the Swine flu “pandemic” are frequently used to circumvent the federalist preference for slow and deliberate change.)

Alexis de Toqueville recognized the ingenuity of the U.S. system of government in that each branch of the central government served as a check against the unrestrained power of the other. In addition, the States serve to check the rampant power of the central government. The Federalist Papers sees the need for checks as stemming in the fallen nature of man. If all men were angels (holy and righteous), the Papers argues, we would not need any checks on government.

At present, the kingdom of Christ rules in the hearts of men, not in the halls of Congress. Until the Lord returns to fully consummate the inaugurated kingdom, federalism is perhaps the best we can do.

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