Of Children and Lockdowns

Photo by Thom Masat on Unsplash

In the heavy lockdown state in which I reside, the early stages of shutdown closed the outdoor playgrounds.  They closed the outdoor basketball courts.  To drive the point home that children were not welcome, the rims and nets were removed from the backboards—the worry must have been that some child might think of defying the governor’s orders.  I noticed at the time that golf courses remained open and were actively used, but I did not hear that many children frequented the fairways or the greens.

We all can agree that the lockdowns and closures of the Great Cessation are not pleasant.  There is a general wish that they would not have to happen.  There is a variety of views about how necessary this all has been.  I have not, though, heard anyone deny that children have been hurt the most.

Consider this partial catalog of harm to the children among us:

Education was abruptly interrupted.  Schools were closed.

  • In my major suburban county, government efforts to provide “virtual education” were repeatedly tried and failed and eventually abandoned.  The virtue remained elusive.
  • Education that requires group participation, such as music and arts, became unavailable.
  • Field trips were canceled. 
  • All school clubs’ and extracurricular activities—educationally valuable and greatly desired by children—ceased.
  • Personal belongings were quarantined in school lockers for months.
  • Public libraries were closed.
  • For the fall, the local governments repeatedly tried and failed, and eventually abandoned, efforts to reopen schools.  Children will be offered second class education at best.  That may work, to a limited degree, for well motivated children with consistent parental supervision.  Expect much less success for all the rest.

Social and recreational interaction was interrupted.

  • School sports were stopped, including practices, training, games, and facilities.  For many, that can include a whole year of skill development, performing, and advancement, a potential disaster for youth counting on a final year to demonstrate skills to help with college admissions.
  • School sponsored social events, such as dances, proms, plays, and other recreations were dropped.
  • School organized or sponsored service activities have been canceled.
  • Children were ordered to stay at home.  Enjoyment of friendships and development of camaraderie among peers were interrupted.  Usual exchanges with friends and neighbors, and the normal creative interactions, have been stifled.
  • The personal exposure to a variety of views and interests and backgrounds became limited.
  • Summer camps were closed and seasonal outings were taken off the table.
  • Recreational facilities were closed, including parks, sports venues, and pools.
  • Movie theaters and other entertainment offerings, such as concerts and spectator sports, became unavailable for warding off youthful ennui. 
  • Visits to extended family members declined.

Opportunities for character development have been curbed.

  • Churches were closed, including worship services, participation in sacred sacraments, associating in youth groups and instruction, joining in varieties of spiritual development activities, and involvement in service to the needy.
  • Similarly, the activities of service organizations are curbed, limiting youth participation and volunteer experiences.
  • Summer job opportunities became fewer, whether for wages or as summer internships.

Children’s health has been put at risk.

  • Regular doctor visits were for a time banned, and then later merely discouraged.
  • Routine treatments for chronic ailments were missed.
  • Vaccinations and other traditional child medical treatments have been skipped.
  • Dental visits were put off, as have been visits to the optometrist.
  • Medical attention has not been sought except for what was considered serious ailments or until they became serious ailments.
  • “Elective” procedures have been put off.

What do we offer the children in place of what has been closed to them?  As mentioned in this litany of childhood harm, local authorities ordered children to remain at home, but what kind of homes?  Not all children have the safe, comfortable, well provisioned and lovely homes we would wish or that officials envisioned.  Many habitations, rather than a haven and venue for learning, are without parental supervision, are dirty, uncomfortable, and unsafe, exposed to crime, drugs, and gang activity.  Children have looked to schools and other facilities, now closed to them by the lockdown, as places of refuge.  Lockdown policies can quarantine children into zones of hazard.

As summed up by a recent opinion piece from the American Institute for Economic Research, “Shockingly, it now appears that suicide rates among the young are on the increase, which is concerning since suicide is the leading cause of death for those under the age of 25.” (“CDC Has Become Centers for the Destruction of Childhood,” June 25, 2020)

What do we offer the children in place of what has been closed to them?

Children are the age group least vulnerable to the virus, the fewest to contract it, the quickest to heal, with by far the lowest mortality rate, and the tiniest record for contagion.  They have been covered in masks and fed on a daily feast of fear.  The irony is that the age group least affected by the virus is the group most deeply harmed by the lockdowns—against which they can do little to protect themselves.

Of Religion and Liberty

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In recent days the Supreme Court of the United States, in two related decisions, gave a welcome reaffirmation of the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion.  The cases involved practical application of the principle First Amendment right.  One case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, involved the Obamacare Act and contraceptive insurance coverage.  The other, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, concerned religious schools and their employment policies.  Both cases were decided by strong 7-2 votes. 

Readers will look to other forums and formats for the specifics of these interesting decisions.  I raise them as noteworthy inasmuch as governments in the last few months have acted unkindly toward religion and its exercise, much to the harm of people and the  jeopardy of their other rights protected in the First Amendment.

Not only is freedom of religion and the exercise thereof found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, it is the first freedom mentioned.  Free speech, freedom of the press, freedom peaceably to assemble, and the right to petition the government follow next, in that order.  This is not necessarily a ranking of importance of these five freedoms.  All are essential, but I would suggest that the latter four are strengthened by freedom of religion and will be put at risk without a vigorous regard for that freedom.

This is not hypothetical.  As an experiment to deal with the unknown effects of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) many state governments (and the federal government to a lesser degree) engaged in an abrupt and progressive impairment of the constitutional rights of nearly all within their jurisdiction.  Of the five freedoms of the First Amendment, governments applied or tolerated the harshest limitations on religion and its practice.  Churches were closed, its members forbidden to meet together, even in small groups.  Administrations of religious rites considered sacred were blocked, even in application to the dying as well as the living.

In my congregation, in my church, we gather, we fellowship with one another, we sing together, we pray together, we teach each other, we provide service to one another, we follow the pattern of what Jesus Christ did and calls upon us to do in the practice of becoming kinder, more loving people.  Government restrictions have made that very hard to do, and are unable to replace it with anything.

One of the leaders of the church, David A. Bednar, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lately said this in remarks on the importance of religious practice:

Latter-day Saints are hardly alone in this need to gather. . . Our Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical friends gather for mass, baptisms, confirmations, sermons, and myriad other religious purposes.  Our Jewish friends gather for worship in their synagogues.  Our Muslim friends gather in their mosques.  Our friends in the Buddhist, Sikh, and other faith traditions likewise have sacred places to gather and worship together. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.

In the United States and elsewhere, in this experiment into which we were rapidly immersed, people “throughout the free world,” as David Bednar reminded, “learned firsthand what it means for government to directly prohibit the free exercise of religion.”

Science, including the science of self government, requires us to learn from our experiments.  What have we seen in the social laboratory within which we have been living?  While freedom of religion has been curtailed, other liberties have eroded.  Freedom of speech has been restricted; people have become very careful about speaking their minds, avoiding certain words, even limiting their associations with neighbors, and they do not like it.  Communication even on social media has been censored. 

Press freedom is no longer robust.  Media broadcasters are careful to avoid use of newly minted proscriptions of this or that phrase or word, with correspondents and announcers disappearing from their jobs almost overnight for violation of some new taboo.  People have become increasingly mistrustful of “the news.”

Many assemblies are prohibited.  Where allowed, numerical limits have been imposed on how many people can assemble in the same place.  More nettlesome, as is the usual case with the violation of rights, restrictions are applied and enforced unevenly, some favored and others not.

Governments, especially local governments, turn deaf ears to constituents raising concerns with the application of restrictions.  Arrangements for schools run by local governments are in confusion. 

Overall, people feel isolated, alone, helpless, and, for too many, hopeless.  They look for and find temporary relief in acts of rebellion, minor or otherwise.

This is where freedom of religion can be seen as important to the other freedoms.  Churches have often in western societies been a counterweight to government tyranny, which is why the governments of Europe tried for centuries to control them.  As the Red Army imposed its Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe, persecution and control of religion were a priority. 

The first amendment prohibits government control of religion, specifically to preserve freedom of the churches, which in America has also worked to accommodate variety of religious practice.  All of the churches, together, need the first amendment to thrive, as do their members.  No other human organizations are as organized, enduring, and meaningful to people.  Without vigorous, free religions, people are left alone to defend their other rights, with alternative organizations that at best are anemic by comparison.

In the words of David Bednar, “With goodwill and a little creativity, ways can almost always be found to fulfill both society’s needs and the imperative to protect religious freedom. . . . Never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential.”

Of Humanism and Religious Freedom

Can a creed that claims to be non-religious be itself a religion? Is the professed irreligion of the leading social elites not only a religion but America’s state religion, reinforced by Federal, state, and local governments?

Consider a typical school commencement ceremony, whether college or high school. A speaker declares that we must leave all talk of God behind, toss into the dustbin the dogmas of religion that divide us, and embrace a view of life that brings people together in a common cause of humanity, a village of fellow passengers on this tiny planet as it wends its course through the universe. At another similar commencement ceremony a different speaker declares that we should rise above the hates and lusts of mankind and embrace the love of God, join together in our common heritage as children of the family of God, learning to live with each other here that we may all the better live with our Heavenly Father in the eternities. Which of these, today, is likely to receive the greater applause and public commendation? Which of these speakers, on the other hand, is more likely to be censored and not even permitted to present his views, perhaps under threat of a lawsuit? Or, to make the question easier to answer, which is more likely to receive favorable coverage in the media?

Expressions of skepticism about God and His existence are embraced, praised, and rewarded in contemporary American society. Declarations of faith in God meet anything from patronizing smiles, to hostility, to punitive sanctions under the prevailing culture. The predominant American society, while professing to be neutral about religion, has some very strong opinions about religion and its expression.

In a land of constitutional free speech, that allows no state religion, this should seem an odd discussion, a throwback to history. Cursory familiarity with the historical chronicle would bring to mind other places and times when an incautious word on religion could earn a speaker severe punishment, not excluding cruel execution. Deviation from the local religion was certainly risky business anciently. We also may recall tales of the Spanish Inquisition and the bloody controversies of the Protestant Reformation, as well as the perennial anti-Semitism that has followed the House of Israel throughout its Diaspora. Social revolutions have dealt harshly with religion, from the French revolution to every communist regime, while clumsily endeavoring to create new secular religions (that failed miserably to engage adherents).

The malodorous plant of state religion followed the colonists to America, but it had trouble taking root, particularly among the English colonies. The freedom of wide open spaces, and the need for an armed populace, made oppressive government difficult to maintain. Thomas Jefferson considered the establishment of legal guaranties of religious freedom in Virginia to be among his life’s most important achievements (the other being the founding of the University of Virginia). The principle of that law was later made a part of the United States Constitution with the adoption of the First Amendment.

The public outcry from media and politicians (with little echo from the general populace) over recent efforts of states to reinforce freedom of religion against encroachments by regulatory dicta and court edicts strongly suggests that there is one—and only one—protected national religion in the United States today. It needs no protection offered by these state laws, because its tenets are the motivating heart of the government actions threatening all of the other religions. It goes by many names—as do many broad religions—and includes a variety of sects, also not uncommon among religions. For facility of discussion, I will refer to just one of its appellations, Humanism.

The religion of Humanism has a core belief—shared by all of its sects and denominations—that man is the measure of everything. Man decides what is truth, what is good, what is real. Yes, that is more than a bit narcissistic, which is probably the key to its attraction, particularly among the intelligentsia and the elites. The chief corollary to this main tenet is that God does not matter, whether you believe in Him or not (some Humanist sects tolerate a belief in God or some sort of Supreme Being for reasons of nostalgia and to broaden popular acceptance).

Humanism has an elaborate set of dogmas, commandments, taboos, and rituals. It has its own liturgical language, which is required to be used, for example, in all doctoral dissertations—especially those in the social sciences, though its linguistic hegemony is now reaching to hard sciences as well—and in more colloquial versions observed by all media outlets, especially broadcast journalism. Humanism has its sacred texts along with its college of revered and beatified Humanists of yore.

I was going to write that Humanism has its own seminaries, but, frankly, that includes nearly all colleges and universities in the nation. The clergy of Humanism is largely self-appointed, though it has intricate, Byzantine hierarchies, with no one at the top for long, though all presume to speak for everyone. The clergy are supported by varieties of orders of acolytes and sycophants, the gathering of disciples a key method of rising in Humanism’s hierarchy, and the loss of disciples a sure path to disfavor and obscurity.

While most religions preach exceptionalism, exclusivity, or preeminence, whether in faith or favor with God, Humanism may be the most intolerant of all. Being the state religion, it uses the full power of legislatures, regulators, law enforcement agencies, and the courts to advance its cause and bring in to line people who disagree with its tenets and prescriptions, who violate any of its taboos—particularly who utter any of its taboo words—or who remark on the foibles of its revered demigods. Significantly, any practice by any other religion that interferes with Humanism must yield to Humanist demands, not excluding the profligate use of federal, state, and local moneys to fund its projects, prescriptions, and priests.

Therein lies the explanation for both the desire of various state legislatures to reaffirm religious freedom and the inveterate and fierce hostility to these efforts from the media and a bevy of national celebrities. Freedom of religious belief and practice is a threat only to an established national religion, erecting obstacles to forced conformity with the state church. Failure of efforts to reaffirm the protections of the First Amendment will result in an increasingly intimidating society, constraining intellectual freedom and unauthorized religious observance to a degree unseen in the United States since 1787.

In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Those words are the most prominent inscription in the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson might get into trouble saying such a thing at a modern commencement ceremony at the University of Virginia.

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