- - Thursday, December 26, 2019

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to restore civics in public schools. Worried that students are graduating ignorant of how America’s system of government works, he announced that he’s instructing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to have all seniors take the test administered to immigrants applying for citizenship.

While I agree on the importance of political understanding, I have reservations about the governor’s attachment to civics. With education so imbued with “progressive” ideology, and even the Founding Fathers dismissed as intractable racists, what’s to keep civics classes from becoming just another means to run down the country?

Nevertheless, it’s important for young people to understand how our system works. A good start would be recognizing that there are four pillars on which our republic is based:

First is the right to life. Human life must be inviolable from conception to natural death. If it isn’t, the state determines when life is of value and when it isn’t. That means government officials can decide whether we live or die. They can declare who is a person. In essence, the state can set the terms of reality. And when that happens, all other rights are forfeit.

The second pillar is a commitment to the common good. There’s a strong strain of libertarianism in American society. The idea that I have the right to do whatever I wish, as long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others is attractive and superficially plausible, because it seems to reflect the basic assumptions of American freedom.



Certainly, we strive to maintain a high degree of individual liberty, but we know that the very fact that everyone has their own rights places limits on individualism. This is what justifies imposing such restraints on private behavior as speed limits. Additionally, there are times when we must act collectively to meet a common need or confront a common danger. That can require great personal sacrifice, as in the case of the military draft. But common good supersedes individual will.

The third pillar is subsidiarity. This is the understanding that different levels of authority are responsible for different functions, and that needs are best met at the lowest level possible. It’s what undergirds our federal structure. We have local authorities (cities, counties, school districts, etc.), we have state governments and we have a national government.

Under the principle of subsidiarity, human needs are best addressed at the level closest to the individual, beginning with the family. In point of fact, most needs can be met at the family level, as they were in the past. Unfortunately, the movement to increase governmental size and power has undermined the autonomy of families to such an extent that we now tend to look first to government to solve our problems.

The fourth pillar is solidarity. This implies pride in our country’s history and in the Judeo-Christian moral heritage on which the nation is based. It also requires a sense of unity among those who share our commitment to America’s principles and the U.S. Constitution.

Our history, our principles, our Constitution, even the concept of morality itself, are under attack. Hence, my reservations about Mr. DeSantis’ hopes for civics education. I think we would do better to emphasize revitalization of the nation’s churches.

We’ve seen the influence of faith on politics before. In the 18th century, America experienced the Great Awakening. This was a grassroots religious revival that swept the colonies. Not only did it bring people to faith, it motivated them to demand independence.

The Great Awakening emphasized the dignity of the human person. It stressed that the Bible says man is made in God’s image and likeness. It is God, not government, who sets the parameters by which people should be treated. We are saved, by faith, not by adherence to ideas considered politically correct at a particular moment in time.

Many churches have been tainted by compromise with the values of the world. It’s no mystery that people — especially young people — abandon organized religion, when what they hear from the pulpit is less inspiring than what they can get from the Hallmark Channel.

But there is no more compelling message than the message of the Gospel. And the network of churches and religious institutions built so arduously over centuries still exists (if somewhat reduced) to transmit that message, if only we can bring it back on track.

We need God more than ever right now. We must not be dissuaded by the popular, though wrong, assumption about America’s separation of church and state — that because we have no established church, the public square must be cleansed of all religious ideas.

Act on your faith. Call upon religious leaders to speak the truth forcefully. Show your faith to your representatives by insisting on legislation that reflects traditional values. Strengthen the four pillars.

Save the nation.

• Michael P. Orsi, a priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV.” 

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