A Common Misconception: Constitutional Rights

A rather common theme that is often expressed by those who feel that PCC has overstepped its boundaries and by those who feel that PCC’s regulatory system is unduly burdensome is that PCC violates the “constitutional rights” of its students (and sometimes staff and faculty as well).

For instance, claims are made that PCC’s refusal to allow any single comment in support of The Voice or in opposition to itself (PCC mistakenly merges these two concepts together as one single, indivisible doctrine) is a violation of a student’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .”). Or a claim will be made that when PCC prohibits its students from worshiping freely (see Dr. Horton’s Comments regarding The Student Voice, specifically the policy prohibiting “public devotions”) this is a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of association or the freedom of worship (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. . . .”).

While I must acknowledge a certain degree of logic to these propositions, I must also point out that these propositions misunderstand the Constitution and are therefore completely incorrect. Please allow me to briefly explain why this is so, so that we can eliminate these false accusations against PCC.

1. The General Structure of the Constitution.

Understand the Constitution for what it is. It is simply a blueprint for the American system of democratic government. It sets up the structure for how our government will operate. Article I sets up the legislative function, the mechanism by which laws may be enacted. Article II sets up the executive power, the mechanism by which these laws will be carried out and enforced. Article III sets up a judiciary, the mechanism by which disputes will be resolved.

A fourth “part” of the Constitution, though, is generally where “issues” supposedly arise with regard to PCC’s restrictions, and that is the Bill of Rights (certainly, a part of the Constitution). Note that both the Bill of Rights and the general text of the Constitution (1) grant certain POWER to the government, (2) grant (or acknowledge) certain RIGHTS to (in)
individuals, i.e, they restrict the power of the government, and (3) serve other functions which are not relevant to this discussion. Therefore, since we are not concerned with the power granted to the government, we are instead concerned with rights granted to individuals.

2. Individual Rights.

As was discussed in Issue 4, No. 1, a right is a privilege that is capable of being claimed against someone else. The question, then, and THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to understand in addressing whether PCC violates any constitutional rights is to know AGAINST WHOM may those rights be claimed? If they cannot be claimed against PCC through the principles of the Constitution, then PCC does not violate any Constitutional rights.

Please note this: except for the Thirteenth Amendment (dealing with slavery), no part of the Constitution/Bill of Rights applies to private individuals in their private capacity or to private groups. They apply ONLY to the state, or the government. Therefore, since PCC is a private group, and NOT the state, the Constitution DOES NOT apply to it. In other words, PCC cannot violate a student’s constitutional rights because the Constitution only applies to government and does not apply to, among other things, private colleges.

Remember, this whole discussion about PCC should be divided into two parts: (1) what authority does PCC have (see Issue 1, No. 1), and (2) how SHOULD it exercise that authority it does have? It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the second question if one does not understand the first. The question of constitutional rights as it applies to students and faculty goes to the first question. PCC’s authority is neither derived from nor restricted by the U.S. Constitution.

I trust this has been enlightening, and I hope this clears up a very common misconception that is prevalent among PCC observers. Of course, I realize that there will still be those of you who will find some way to slam my motives, my life and lack of Scriptural support for this discussion, but so be it. Part of rational understanding requires a desire to understand rationally.

Myths About Christianity: Christianity Stifles Personal Freedom

Many people today accept a number of myths about Christianity, with the result that they never respond to Jesus as He really is. This is one of ten articles that speak to some of these misconceptions.

Freedom is the prevailing cry of the world today, the overwhelming preoccupation of individuals and nations. Yet even though Scripture speaks of a liberty that Christ offers (Eph. 5:1-12), some people resist Christianity as itself an obstacle to freedom. Is this view of the faith justified?

On the face of it, it seems strange to identify Christianity as an enemy of freedom. After all, Christians have historically stood up for the poor, the oppressed, the captive, and the underprivileged. Likewise, liberation from ignorance, disease, and political oppression have invariably resulted wherever Christian faith and principles have been adopted. Why, then, would
some view the faith as repressive?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the problem of legalism. Whenever Christianity is made into a list of do’s and don’ts, it becomes intolerant and restrictive. Instead of enjoying an intimate relationship with a loving God, the legalist is obsessed with rules and regulations, as if God were a celestial Policeman just waiting to catch us out of line.

To be sure, Christ does make demands on us that sometimes limit our autonomy. But true Christianity sees this as part of a relationship based on love and grace, not unlike a healthy marriage in which both partners sometimes sacrifice their own desires in order to serve the other. But even if there were no legalists, many people would still resist Christianity because they resist any standards that would place absolute claims on them. To them, freedom means pure autonomy–the right to do whatever they want, with no accountability to anyone else. But surely that leads to irresponsibility and license rather than freedom. Nor do people really live that way. Sooner or later they choose one course of action over another, based on some set of values. In other
words, they surrender their will to standards, whether good or bad, and act accordingly. So it is not just the values of Christianity that “stifle” personal freedom, but values in general.

The real question, of course, is what kind of people are we? What is our character? Christians try to mold their character after the pattern of Jesus. He was the most liberated man who ever lived. His ultimate standard of behavior was, what does My Father want Me to do (John 8:29)? Did that code stifle His freedom? Hardly: He was utterly free of covetousness, hypocrisy, fear of others, and every other vice. At the same time He was free to be Himself, free to love people with warmth and purity, and free to surrender His life for others.

True Christian freedom is Christlike freedom. There is no hint of legalism about it. It accepts absolute moral standards that are well known and well proven, and it takes its inspiration from the most liberated human being who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth. What is stifling about that?

A Call To Unity

Ephesians 4:1-6: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Within the realm of Christendom, there have always been and will continue to be factions. This is in some ways unfortunate, and thus it is in these same ways not entirely good. Perhaps this is simply due to the fallibility of human nature and the inevitable consequences of ideological clashes. From the Corinthian church in the first century to the debates between the early church fathers and Turtullian over the place of reason and the “Academy” in the church, to Martin Luther and the Archbishop of Mainz in the sixteenth century, to today’s divisions among Protestant denominations, we can usually understand the factions by juxtaposing each group’s ideology upon the canvas of general theology.

It is important to recognize the relationships between the factions, which can generally be observed at three levels: Broad, general and specific. “Broad” factions are those whose differences go to the most fundamental theological principles, or different “canvases of general theology” – i.e., Christianity versus Hinduism. “General” factions can be characterized as factions within the Broad factions – i.e., within Christianity, Lutheran versus Baptist. “Specific” factions are those within a General faction –
i.e., within the Baptist movement, those who adhere strictly to the local church structure versus those who do not.

Now, PCC observers and the issues generated generally fall into the Specific level, and occasionally the General. The intricacies of this are not necessarily relevant to this discussion, but understand it to the extent that virtually all of us are on the same canvas; we all have, or at least claim to have a belief in the same fundamental premise – the ultimate Scriptural authority and the importance of being a light in a dark world.

Perhaps one of the naive misconceptions of The Student Voice at its inception was that although there would understandably be strong differences of opinion among observers, there would at least be a minimal level of civility and maturity in discussing issues that are, regardless of a few assertions to the contrary, important to a lot of people. Since there was no alternative available, The Voice was created to provide a forum for “alternative” (alternative to PCC’s, that is) ideas, ideas that were, and are, quite relevant to PCC’s existence.

A major problem has developed in that attempts to “sabotage” both “sides” have been undertaken. Attempts have been made to destroy The Voice, not through superior ideas, but through base, destructive blows. However, that does not concern us as much as do recent attempts to sabotage those who oppose the ideas of The Voice. This is absolutely and completely uncalled for, and it demonstrates a real immaturity in a few rogues on each side.

It is vital to keep in mind that we are all, or at least we generally profess to be, Christians. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to act as such. The clash of ideas is not at all a bad thing – recognizing and discussing a diversity of opinions is healthy and should be encouraged. In other words, the SUBSTANCE of the debate should be mature, intelligent, and enlightening to all of us, regardless of where one falls along the spectrum of ideas. The methods and tactics of formulating and engaging in this
debate, however, should not sink beneath the threshold of decency and civility.

Now, some will profess that this debate and these ideas deserve no civility, but it is this type of approach that will do more to damage the cause of Christ than simply ignoring the debate all together. We simply ask that all involved observe the only two legitimate avenues for making one’s opinion known: leave the discussion or engage in it like an adult.

While we may be properly disposed to our each and individual “factions,” let us not permit our philosophical quest to revert into a moral vacuum that resembles Golding’s island in LORD OF THE FLIES more than it does a search for truth among God’s people. There is plenty of room within Christianity for a debate of this sort, but there is no room for un-Christian-like behavior. Let us recognize that we do have differences of opinion, but let us also recognize that we are on the same “canvas.” Unity and diversity are not irreconcilable differences.

We recognize the difficulties The Student Voice presents, but if The Voice is ever going to see its own demise, let us not see it come about as a result of Christians who are incapable of common civility.