Center for Family and Society Newsletter – Dec. 1, 2011

1. For Altars and Firesides

By Bryce J. Christensen and William C. Duncan

The anti-federalists who opposed the ratification of the United States Constitution made many great contributions, perhaps ironically, to the constitutional culture of the United States. They demonstrated graciousness in defeat that serves as an important precedent for subsequent political battles. They also highlighted, in the concerns they raised about the new Constitution, important considerations. For instance, they stressed the centrality of a virtuous citizenry for a successful constitutional order. Supporters of the proposed Constitution agreed on this point, though not necessarily on its implications for the new national government.

On this point of citizen virtue, George Mason noted an “invincible principle” that constitutes an important advantage of republican over monarchical government: “This invincible Principle is to be found in the Love, the Affection, the Attachment of the Citizens to their laws, to their Freedom, and to their Country. Every Husbandman will be quickly converted into a Soldier, when he knows and feels that he is to fight not in defence of the Rights of a particular Family, or a Prince; but for his own. This is the true Construction of that pro Aris and focis (for altars and firesides) which has, in all Ages, perform’d such Wonders.”1

George Mason’s invocation of altars and firesides is instructive, for these twin elements — church and family — were the institutions the Framers of the Constitution, and all public-spirited citizens of their time (including anti-federalists like Mason), believed would primarily inculcate the virtue that would be required for a constitutional order to function and preserve liberty.

It is also instructive that to Mason these two elements were linked.

Church and family are mutually supportive. Religious teachings about marriage, sexuality, obligations of spouses and parents, etc., bolster the natural affections of family life. Parents inculcate religious beliefs and religious morality in their children and family religious observance is at the center of the spiritual life for many people.

The linkage of church and family is evident in the related attacks to which both have been exposed of late. The effort to redefine marriage, for instance, has posited an artificial distinction between “civil marriage” and the traditional understanding of marriage that it attacks. As a distinguished group of family scholars notes: “Marriage and family therefore can never be reduced to a legal construct, a mere creature of the state. Faith communities play a particularly powerful role in sustaining marriage as a social institution. The attempt to cut off ‘civil marriage’ from ‘religious marriage’ — to sever our understanding of the law of marriage from the traditions, norms, images, and aspirations of civil society that give marriage real power and meaning — is in itself destructive to marriage as a social institution.”2

The phrase “mere creatures of the state” invokes important U.S. Supreme Court precedent from the early 20th century. Pierce v. Society of Sisters involved a challenge to an Oregon law (supported by the Ku Klux Klan) enacted by popular initiative that prohibited enrollment of children in private schools.3 The parents’ interests in directing their children were defended by a parochial school and vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1925 decision. In that decision, the court recognized “the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control”4 and repudiated state-centered approaches to the family: “The child is not the mere creature of the State.”5

Current threats to family from government, direct and indirect, are now as they have long been, coupled with threats to religion in public life. In the wake of the London riots that exposed the dark side of a generation deprived of meaningful parent oversight, Roger Scruton implicated the government’s hostility to the twin guardians of virtue, church and state: “The effect of current policies has been to subsidize out-of-wedlock births, to remake marriage as a contract of cohabitation, and to drive religion, which is the true guardian of rites of passage, from the public sphere. Those policies have been embarked on with the best of intentions, but with a remarkable indifference to what we know of human nature.”6

Earlier this year, Illinois enacted a law creating a quasi-marital status called civil unions. The law allows unmarried couples to contract a civil union and access all of the benefits of marriage under a different name. After the law went into effect, same-sex couples complained about religious adoption agencies that would not place children with same-sex couples. These agencies had contracted with the state to perform this crucial welfare service. As a result of an investigation by the offices of the Attorney General and Department of Child and Family Services, the state notified Catholic Charities that it would not renew its contract for placement services because it “would not provide those services to unmarried cohabiting couples,” a policy that “was in direct violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.”7

To take another example, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a regulation mandating coverage of contraception in all healthcare plans and without any co-pay.8 While singling out a non-lifesaving product for this preferential treatment might seem odd, it is entirely consistent with the agenda of facilitating sexual autonomy now in ascendance on the cultural left with support from the Obama administration. It also, perhaps not coincidentally, raises religious liberty concerns because under the mandate many religious healthcare providers could be forced by the regulation to pay for a product when doing so would be inconsistent with their faith.

To take yet one more recent example, consider the news that the Department of Justice has decided to encourage the U.S. Supreme Court to abandon the longstanding practice of refusing to interfere with internal church decisions about the employment of clergy (the ministerial exception). The case involves an attempt by a teacher to sue a religious school for firing her. The school correctly asserts that since the teacher was involved in propagating religious teaching, it would not be appropriate for the courts to second-guess what is clearly a religious decision. The government, on the other hand, seems more concerned with ensuring its ability to conduct a social engineering campaign in the name of eliminating sex discrimination even if this means transgressing the independence of religious groups.

The same-sex marriage debate has highlighted the risks of anti-family government actions to religious liberty. Church and family cannot be separated easily or perhaps at all. Their defenders must ensure they are not. Their rallying cry can be: “For altars and firesides!”


1. Philip B. Kurland & Ralph Lerner, eds., The Founders Constitution, vol. 3, pages 494 (1987) at

2. “Marriage and the Law: A Statement of Principles,” Institute for American Values & Institute for Marriage and Public Policy 2006, at

3. David B. Tyack, “The Perils of Pluralism: The Background of the Pierce Case” 74, American Historical Review 74 (Oct. 1968).

4. Ibid., 534.

5. Ibid., 535.

6. Roger Scruton, “Riots of Passage,” American Spectator, October 2011, at

7. Catholic Charities v. Illinois, No. 2011-MR-254 (Illinois Circuit Court) at

8. Robert Pear, “Insurance Coverage for Contraception is Required,” New York Times, August 2, 2011, p. A10, at


2. Treasure Trove of New Research on the Family

By William C. Duncan

Those interested in family policy have an embarrassment of riches in new research reports issued over the last few months.

Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia, probably the premier family scholar in the United States, has updated the great resource Why Marriage Matters. This report contains the conclusions of a group of family scholars from a large body of social science research on marriage and family and their importance to society and to child well-being.

This edition adds some new findings related to cohabitation and the risks to children from being raised by parents who are living with someone rather than being married. …

To read the rest of this post on the Sutherland Daily website, click here.


3. From ‘Greatest Generation’ to ‘Greatest Failure’

By Derek Monson

Has the baby boom generation become one of the greatest failures in leadership in American history? Walter Russell Mead, himself a boomer, recently published a thought-provoking essay in regard to this question, and his answer seems to be an unequivocal “yes.” “At the level of public policy and moral leadership, as a generation we have largely failed,” Mead proclaims.

Mead blames this monumental generational failure on a rejection of the “maturity” of the past. In his words, “we didn’t need their stinking faith, their stinking morals, or their pathetically conformist codes of moral behavior.” …


4. The Utah Compact, Immigration and Sutherland’s Role

By Alexis Young

How has Sutherland Institute influenced the immigration debate in Utah? Last Friday was the one-year anniversary of the Utah Compact – a document that outlines a reasonable approach to addressing the immigration issue in Utah. At an event to recognize the compact’s anniversary, community leaders spoke about the importance of the compact, and we interviewed many of them to understand their perspective on the role Sutherland played in its adoption. …