In religion, the Golden Rule means that one should treat others as he would like to be treated. It is considered the highest standard of personal conduct.
But when the government is involved, the Golden Rule means something quite different. It means that the entity with the gold gets to make the rules. And this Golden Rule has become the Constitutional bypass for federal intrusion into the workings of the individual states, and the lives of individual citizens.
When the Constitution was first adopted, there was a significant level of concern that the newly created federal government would eventually grow past the limits envisioned by our Founders. In response, the Bill of Rights was immediately added to safeguard the rights of the states and citizens.
The Tenth Amendment specifically addressed the status of the states, saying that: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Because of its language, this amendment is often referred to as the State’s Rights Amendment.
The language of this amendment made it clear that the federal government had limits on its areas of authority, and that those limits could be found in the Constitution itself. Yet today’s federal government does not even pretend to live within its ordained limits.
How can this be happening? The answer lies in the Golden Rule.
Consider this example. In the 1990’s the federal government decided to establish a national speed limit for American motorists. Nothing in the Constitution, even with the most creative application, could be interpreted to allow for federal jurisdiction in this area. So the federal government made a state’s adoption of the national speed limit a condition of receiving federal money for highway construction or repair. No state was required to accept federal highway money, but if a state chose to apply for and accept federal highway funds, then it was also choosing to adopt the national speed limit. The Tenth Amendment was not being violated because states were “volunteering” to accept the money, and the conditions that accompanied that acceptance.
The same Golden Rule is used in education, where studies have reported that the federal government, through its system of state-wide grant programs, supplies about 3% of the funding received by school districts, while controlling over 75% of the programs and policies in the local schools. In one case, a district that could not afford to update textbooks was forced to maintain an administrative position for a Sex Equity Coordinator. The district could not opt out without losing its state funding, which was significantly more than 3%. The state could not withdraw the mandate because it was tied to a federal grant that helped fund the state’s department of education.
So the federal grant money, which did not violate the Tenth Amendment because the state volunteered to apply for it, then chose to accept it and therefore the conditions attached to it, gave the federal government the ability to direct what happened in a local school district, with the state as the enforcer.
The Golden Rule at its Best
Fireworks are fun. But the fireworks we all just enjoyed honor a system of government that is fast disappearing. Let’s take our eyes, and our attention, away from the sky, and focus instead on restoring the limits established by the men who gave us this nation. That restoration would be something to celebrate!