Freedom and Loyalty

Loyalty and Liberty: The following column appeared, I believe in the KC Star in May 2016. It draws on a conversation Jeanette and I had about the polarization that makes it so hard to talk about practical solutions to social problems. As a society, we get ourselves into trouble if we put too much emphasis on independence, but we get ourselves into another sort of trouble if we don’t put enough emphasis on interdependence. We’re in this together so it’s important that we start with a sense of loyalty. Sometimes it might be possible to rise to the level of love, but that’s too much to expect on a daily basis. Hannah Arendt says we’re doing well to achieve respect.

Debate Over SJR 39 Reveals Much Agreement
About “What the World Needs Now”
By Don Love and Jeanette Mott Oxford

Something truly remarkable happened in Jefferson City April 27th, as the House Committee on Emerging Issues moved toward a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 39 (SJR 39). There was inspirational agreement as to “what the world needs now.”

The sponsor of SJR 39, Senator Bob Onder of St. Charles, argued that Missouri needed more religious freedom. He proposed a constitutional amendment that would have allowed legal discrimination toward same sex couples by some individuals and broadly-defined “religious institutions.” He especially sought to create a right for those who work in wedding-connected industries (bakers, photographers, florists, etc.) to refuse to sell their services to same sex couples.

But during the debate over SJR 39, we were very pleased to hear several members of the committee, some who voted yes and some who voted no, state that what we really need is more love. Rep. Jack Bondon, a yes vote, made this point eloquently and strongly, saying the General Assembly must be able to discuss difficult issues, “without demeaning and demagoguery.” He closed by stating what matters most is that you “love your neighbor.”

We strongly endorse a politics of love. We need more loyalty, the kind of love that stands by the loved one when disagreements emerge, continuing to respect and trust.

Freedom, Liberty and Independence are fine, but they are not a sufficient foundation for a nation. For every flag proclaiming Don’t Tread on Me, we need a flag that says Join, Or Die— Benjamin Franklin’s famous cartoon showing how essential it was for the American colonies to join together to survive. Loyalty is as important as freedom.

Many same-sex spouses have religious convictions as deep and sincere as those of Sen. Onder’s dissenting baker—and belong to churches that honor their marriages. That is the beauty and the challenge of living in these United States.

SJR 39 divorced liberty from love, independence from interdependence. We are glad that SJR 39 failed in the end (in a 6-6 tie) because it ignored the necessity for us to coexist amicably in spite of deep-seated differences.

We need laws that do a better job of balancing freedom and loyalty. We especially need the respectful and thorough periods of study and discussion that Rep. Bondon has recommended.

We hope to see the “politics of love” break forth in 2016 electoral campaigns and the 2017 Legislative Session of the Missouri General Assembly. What if we took that path of respectful and thoughtful discussion that Rep. Bondon has endorsed on issues like these?

Difficult Issue # 1: The current income guidelines for our health insurance programs leave 300,000 low-wage workers in Missouri without affordable coverage. These neighbors are too poor to get into the Affordable Care Act subsidized Marketplace plans, and they have too much income to qualify for Medicaid.

Difficult Issue # 2: The tax table for our state income tax system has not been updated since 1931, so our top tax bracket begins at $9,000 per year of taxable income, a lot of money in 1931, but very little income now. At the same time, state revenue is inadequate to address many of our state’s most intransigent problems like hunger, affordable housing, educational funding, and mental health.

Difficult Issue # 3: For fifteen years straight, the Vehicle Stops Report has shown patterns in traffic stops and in actions after the stop that are indicative of racial bias. Police officers feel disrespected by community members, and community members feel disrespected by police.

What if our General Assembly applied the “politics of love” and tackled each of these problems “without demeaning and without demagoguery.” To be able to do so would continue the very American process of forming “a more perfect union.”

Don Love, a retired teacher, Columbia, is chair of the Human Rights Task Force of Empower Missouri, where Jeanette Mott Oxford is executive director. Empower Missouri (www.EmpowerMissouri.org), headquartered in Jefferson City, advocates for the well-being of all Missourians through civic leadership, education, and research.

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