Opportunist Pols Seek Yet Another Way to Prove Their 'Morality'
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Tom Grey, the Methodist minister from Galena, Ill. who serves as field coordinator of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gaming, was in Washington Sept. 7 at the expense of Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition, telling supporters that he hopes to persuade Reed to ask all the 1996 presidential candidates to oppose the further spread of casinos, and to seek a review of all existing gaming operations, including Nevada's. Grey's group hopes to make opposition to gaming a "litmus test" for the political support of the Christian Right, he said.
The Rev. Grey's calls seem to be finding some receptive ears in Washington. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., scheduled a news conference for Friday about bills they have introduced calling for a federal commission to study the effects of gaming.
Do pastors have a right to urge their flocks to avoid the weaknesses of the flesh? Of course. Where the religious go wrong is in the misguided notion that it is good -- either for the society at large or for religion -- to try to encode all those teachings in secular laws, enforced by the armed might of the state.
We have already seen how families, communities, and fraternal organizations can be weakened when their historic roles are usurped by government. Families must hang together, despite their differences, when they are the sole source of financial security for the young and the very old. But once government promises 12 free years of day care for the young and lifetime pensions for the elderly (both funded by taxes high enough to require both spouses to leave the home for work), tried and true family structures break apart, resulting in many of the social pathologies we now see all around us.
Government interventions into medical care and insurance have likewise weakened fraternal organizations by removing two of the main practical advantages which such associations could offer their members up through the early 20th century. And government also now restricts many of the functions for which neighbors once counted on one another, weakening our communities in like measure.
(Doubters can read in any 19th century housewife's journal how one family might bake bread for several neighbors, one of which in turn might watch their kids for a few days, while another would do mechanical repairs for everyone nearby. Try that today, and the zoning code enforcement goons will be on you like fur on a cat, citing you for operating a commercial kitchen without a health permit, operating an illegal and unlicensed day care center ...)
Is it too far-fetched to conclude that -- should the uniformed government policeman take over the role of trying to make sure no one smokes, drinks, gambles, or takes the name of the lord in vain -- the now-redundant churches could also face a similar withering of support and membership?
If churchmen like the Rev. Grey wish to minister to the small percentage of those who find it hard to gamble -- or drink, or engage in any other "vice" -- in moderation, more power to them.
If they wish to go further and advise complete abstinence, that too is their right. There are many devout religious souls right here in Nevada who would agree. In a free society, that message can be accepted by those who like it, and rejected by the rest. That's precisely the kind of freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment's ban on a government "establishment" of a single religion.
To cross that line is not only a violation of the American tradition of tolerance, it's impractical. Outlawing forms of voluntary commerce does not have a great success rate in eliminating the "sins" in question. By driving such activities underground, such prohibitions only risk throwing gaming -- or whatever activity is banned -- into the hands of a criminal element, with many dangerous repercussions. The failed national experiment with alcohol Prohibition, as well as our current crime-breeding bans on drugs and prostitution, are fine examples.
Nor is there anything "un-Christian" about the American tradition of offering people free choices in such matters. When Jesus set forth his proscription on divorce, except in case of fornication, Matthew tells us in his gospel that the disciples threw up their hands, saying, "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry."
To this, Jesus agreed that there are some "which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake," but then advised that such self-sacrifice is not for everyone. "All men cannot receive this saying," he advised, "save they to whom it is given. ... He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."
Surely the Rev. Grey cannot imagine he has a source of wisdom more perfect than that of Jesus, who thus taught his disciples to let each who heard their teachings decide for him or herself how far they could withdraw from the world of the flesh.
Such misguided politics as those of the Rev. Grey have in the past gone further than anyone believed possible, when cynical politicians latched onto them as "sure crowd-pleasers." That's why all Americans in whom there still smolders a spark of the old torch of freedom need to calmly resist not the Rev. Grey's teachings, but the tragic mistake of trying to carry them into the sullied world of politics and law.
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.
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