An obscure concept called the Convention of the States (COS) is gaining momentum in the Bible belt—and it’s backed by the Religious Right. It’s the brainchild of Michael Farris, founder and president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Far from being a noble attempt to safeguard our freedom, it’s an attempt by Farris and his cronies to rewrite the U.S. Constitution to make it more to their liking.
A little background: There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One is for two-thirds majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate to approve an amendment, which then goes to the states. If three-fours of the states say yes, the amendment is added to the Constitution.
The other mechanism has never been tried. If two-thirds of the states apply for a constitutional convention, one must be convened. Most experts on the Constitution believe that once a “con-con” has been called, it can’t be limited to just one subject. Everything would be up for discussion.
Over the years, right-wing groups have proposed con-cons to add anti-abortion, school prayer and other amendments to the Constitution.
So why does Farris want to amend the Constitution? The COS’ official website lists several suggestions, and superficially, all of them seem to be in more in line with libertarianism than the theocratic policies of the Religious Right. Among the recommended amendments: a balanced budget amendment, redefinition of the Welfare Clause and a prohibition on using international treaties and laws to govern the United States.
The site doesn't mention religion, and yet David Barton, the noted pseudo-historian, and Rick Green, his radio co-host, publicly issued their support for a COS last week.
In an open letter to “fellow patriots” published by Glenn Beck’s website, Barton and Green wrote, “It is exciting to see such a renewed interest in basic constitutional principles. Liberty lovers across America are studying their past in order to find ways to stop our federal government’s explosive growth and sprint towards socialism.”
The letter added, “For states to refuse to use this tool would be like going into a street fight, but refusing to use one of your biggest and most effective weapons. And it is illogical to consider the use of any constitutional provision as a threat to the Constitution. It makes as much sense as violating the free-market system to save it, or breaking health care to fix it.”
It’s important to recall that Barton and Green are no fans of separation of church and state; their opposition to the concept is exactly why they spend so much time and resources constructing a dogmatic mythology that supports the notion that America is a “Christian nation.” The wall of separation is a barrier in the crusade to “Christianize” America. If a COS is convened, their legislative allies could propose—and pass—an amendment that would substantially weaken the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections, or repeal them entirely.
And for this endeavor, they have a strong ally in Farris. Farris is a champion of the Christian home-school movement, and founded Patrick Henry College, a fundamentalist Christian school that serves primarily home-schooled students. He has close ties to the Religious Right.
Farris has backed a parental rights amendment to the Constitution for years. Ostensibly, it’s intended to “protect” the right of Christian parents to home-school (a right already upheld by the courts). But it also goes further than home-schooling, and would grant parents an absolute right to school “choice” – that is to say, sectarian education at taxpayer expense.
No mention of the parental rights amendment appears on COS’s website. But given Farris’ years of advocacy for the measure, it’s likely that passing it is among his primary motivations for launching the COS effort.
I doubt that Farris & co. are burning to call a con-con so they can add a balanced-budget amendment. That’s populist rhetoric designed to disguise the true motivations for the campaign.
Instead, it’s far more likely that the COS campaign is actually about undermining church-state separation, stopping same-sex marriage, ending legal abortion and furthering other far-right obsessions. They’d love to replace the handiwork of James Madison with something cooked up by a band of Religious Right attorneys.
Farris and his backers have a long way to go. The Georgia senate recently passed the application, and nine other states are currently deliberating the measure. Still, the matter bears watching. They might talk about “reform” but remember this: The “reform” offered by Farris, Barton and Green would ultimately restrict, not protect, our liberties.