By Kent Kauffman
As the townspeople gathered in Winona Lake recently with their proverbial pitchforks in hand, ready to drive out Critical Race Theory, as if it were Frankenstein’s monster, the irony can’t be overlooked that they gathered in a building formerly known for decades as Rodeheaver Auditorium.
Homer Rodeheaver was Billy Sunday’s music director and Billy Sunday, the leading evangelist of the part of the 20th Century that preceded Billy Graham’s era, was a strenuous advocate for prohibition.
Prohibition was premised on the notion that if we keep something “evil” away from everyone, it will make all of us safe. Prohibition was a failure largely because it was constitutionalized, eventually requiring its own cancellation amendment.
It was a personal disaster for Billy Sunday’s family. And today, if one has a wedding reception in the former Rodeheaver Auditorium, alcohol can be served. Those who believe the correct response to what they find disagreeable or bad is to ban it should remember the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Critical Race Theory was for about 40 years a relatively obscure concept whose origin is from law school academic writing. It is a theory not without controversy like many theories that come from the humanities and social sciences – such as law, history, economics, philosophy, and psychology. But like all theories, it is…a theory. An idea. Something that has been studied and written about. Something for people to consider, discuss, argue for and argue against.
Critical Race Theory is not something to be feared like a virus or prohibited as if it were a violent crime. Government officials should no more concern themselves with canceling theories they don’t like than librarians should only order the books they agree with or want to read.
There are more than a few other theories we could also cancel if we’re in the mood. But the problem with prohibiting the expression or the learning of ideas we don’t like is that it is the opposite of what free-thinking people should want for themselves or their children. Why would anyone who likes Capitalism not want to know what Karl Marx wrote about? He coined the word, “Capitalism.”
There are multiple theories of judicial philosophy and one can’t speak confidently about originalism (mistakenly called “strict constructionism”) without knowing about the Living Constitution theory, or vice versa. Creationists who don’t know Darwin’s theory of evolution are woefully misguided concerning what apologetics is about. In fact, the intelligent design movement was born out of the proposition that an alternative theory to evolution should be taught in public schools.
America, as an idea and a form of government, descends in large part from a European philosophical movement known as “The Enlightenment.” Essentially, the Enlightenment was a multi-faceted approach to life and society founded on the belief of the need for more ideas and the freedom to express them.
The Enlightenment thinkers challenged various dominant views on more than just government by monarchy. In these times of unnecessary fearmongering, we should all take to heart a famous Enlightenment quote often attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
For a wonderful town whose history is linked to the failed temperance movement, let’s try tolerance.
Kent Kauffman is a resident of Warsaw and an associate professor of business law at Purdue University – Fort Wayne.