As Americans, we hold the truths that each individual has God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that civil governments are instituted to protect those rights. It is no surprise that declaring these glorious truths is easier than practicing them.
When considering the recent heinous murders of law enforcement officers and indiscriminate murders of citizens, you would think we had learned not to put our hope in bigger government — especially in our leviathan and often lawless federal government. Yet that is just what both of our U.S. senators from Texas have recently proposed in the Back the Blue Act of 2016, which would make the murder of state and local police and other emergency personnel a federal crime if their department has received federal funds.
The intent to punish murderers and invigorate law enforcement is noble, but what Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are backing is nothing short of a Republican version of hate crimes legislation that the feds can use to bludgeon states that fail to prosecute “bias-motivated violence” to their liking.
In our struggle for “liberty and justice for all,” we have not always gotten it right. This was true of the Founders and subsequent generations in regard to slavery. It is true of us today in regard to some laws and enforcement that make some “more equal” than others.
These failures should not dissuade us from our principles, but they should humble us and prompt us to ask God for mercy and grace. They should also make us slow to trust in political solutions.
Statutes enacted with the intent to help a specific group of people inevitably undermine the liberties of others. That’s why Lady Justice is blindfolded: She weighs the individual’s actions in the balance, not his or her race, color, creed, occupation or sex.
We are still learning hard lessons in this regard. Much has been done to erode our birthright of liberty by politicians in the name of safety and security, especially in response to a crisis.
Motive may be helpful in identifying a murderer and in determining that the killing was intentional and not accidental. But it has been our long tradition to not judge thoughts — to leave them free of government control, even if they are wrong.
God will judge the intent of the heart, but it is most dangerous to give civil authority jurisdiction over human thought.
Cornyn’s legislation would only exacerbate the problems we face and give incredible powers to the federal government. Texas already has enhanced penalties for the murder of a police officer. In fact, it is a capital offense that carries a death penalty sentence. What additional justice could the federal system exact than the forfeiture of a life for the taking of one?
Furthermore, this bill prescribes in broad daylight a pathway to extend federal overreach into all aspects of state and local law enforcement, using the lure of federal funds to accomplish this. It would erode the independence and self-governance of our state required in Article I, Section 1, of the Texas Constitution and skirt the clear intent of Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution that limits the federal government from meddling in most matters of state government.
Our law enforcement officers do deserve our support, but as Dallas Police Chief David Brown has pointed out, we are asking our police officers to do too much. The excessive growth of government has placed a strain on law enforcement, and that is something we can fix. But failure to “Back the Blue” is not a legislative issue; it is a moral issue.
I believe our policymakers are trying to do too much as well. Law and law enforcement can only do so much to protect individual liberty.
More fundamental to the preservation of individual rights is a virtuous use of liberty. That’s where we as individuals can and must, by the grace of God, make a difference and choose to love our neighbor regardless of race, occupation or lifestyle.