Settling the science by fiat

In Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” ol’ Rip falls asleep for 20 years that include the American Revolution and wakes to find that his world has thoroughly changed. These days I feel like that after my allotted seven hours a night. People are saying and doing inexplicable things as if they were nothing but good sense. Specifically, and because it is so basic, I’m talking about draconian measures to normalize bizarre ideas about human sexuality. Here are a few notable and current examples.

Bradley Manning, convicted of leaking classified documents and sentenced to 35 years in Leavenworth, claims that he is a woman named “Chelsea.” He wants the military to provide hormone treatments to make him more physically feminine. Earlier this year, the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic manual eliminated the term “gender identity disorder” from its list of mental health disorders to remove the implication of mental illness from the syndrome.

New Jersey’s Republican governor has signed a law making it illegal to therapeutically assist minor children in understanding their own sexuality and orientation—also called “gay conversion therapy.” Gov. Chris Christie said that although he hesitates (though not for long) to limit the choices of parents in caring for their own children, there is no “clear evidence of benefits that outweigh [the] risks” of depression and thoughts of suicide. Besides, the expert consensus is against such treatment.

Perhaps you’ve seen our recent stories about a proposal to ban unpopular views of human sexuality from those who wish to serve or do business with the city of San Antonio or the story about an Air Force sergeant (also in San Antonio) who was relieved by his commander for refusing to affirm (he did not criticize) same-sex marriage.

Woven throughout these stories are “facts” apparently proven while I was asleep. Someone somewhere has proven that teenagers are never confused about sexuality. Perhaps that same person has proven that there are actually more than two sexes represented in the human species. Still someone else has decided that the scorned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. military has become “Must Affirm, Must Say So.”

Of course, none of these things were proven. Each is based on dogma—a religious or philosophical worldview beyond scientific verification. In these cases, the priests of a new religion are overturning some of the most basic understandings of human society—man, woman and family. Their disciples are discarding beliefs that have a track record thousands of years long in favor of ideas less than 50 years, less than six months in some cases, old. To use Professor Lewis’ example: If a man claims to be a poached egg, he cannot in our day be called insane if sympathetic experts vote in his favor. Would you want such a man driving a car, or holding state secrets? Be careful how you answer.

We are not being called on to be tolerant; we are being required to change our minds, our very view of reality, by politicians and opinion makers (and military officers) who are not experts themselves. It is an abuse of all kinds of power. In the case of Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning, we are being required to help a disturbed young man appear to be a woman and perhaps even house him in a women’s facility. In the case of the New Jersey law, Gov. Christie has unmistakably stepped between parents and their children and certainly based on little “clear evidence” that a compelling state interest justified his actions. In the two San Antonio examples, we are being required to mouth an opinion that happens to contradict the Texas Constitution in order to have commerce with the city.

Rip Van Winkle faced no change as surprising as these examples of bald abuses of influence and authority. Those who claim that there are no First Amendment violations built into this riot of folly are insincere or unqualified to hold the influence entrusted to them.    

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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