As a student volunteer at last weekend’s Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to listen to Senator Ben Sasse deliver an incredible speech (without a teleprompter or script, I might add). He shared some excellent thoughts, and most importantly, called upon the Federalist Society to model principles of government held deeply by many of us.
I highly recommend listening to the whole speech (you can find the video below), but I want to highlight a couple of particularly great quotes:
Senator Sasse says we suffer from what he calls the “crisis of cultural catechesis”:
The fact that we have been raising, for forty or fifty years now, a couple of generations of American orphans in the sense that President Reagan used to warn, that in any free Republic, you are always only one generation away from the extinction of freedom. If you don’t pass on the meaning of America to the people who need to be ruling America – because we don’t believe in the rule of professional, permanent, expert, incumbent class – if the people who are supposed to rule American in ten and twenty and thirty years, do not understand what America is…if they don’t understand the American idea, freedom will slip away. And we have, for nearly half a century, stopped  discuss[ing] who we are as a people. We don’t have a shared understanding of these things…
He then goes on to discuss the opportunity for “lay catechesis” in the “strange time we are now entering”:
You have two big and important projects on the agenda. You talked about the Article I Project and you have talked about regulatory reform. And you have a standing mission to serve as gatekeepers of the kinds of people who should be on the federal bench. In all sorts of fundamental ways, you are about advancing an organization that teaches at law schools across the country, where not a lot of other people are advancing this vision, the founders understanding of separation of powers, of limited government, of checks and balances. These are beautiful things that our people do not understand. Right now, current polling data shows that 41% of Americans under age 35 – 41% of Americans under age 35 – think the First Amendment is dangerous. Because you might use your freedom of speech to say something that would hurt someone else’s feelings. That is actually quite the point of America.
Those freedoms are what the First Amendment is about. And the idea that any American thinks the First Amendment might go too far, means that we, as a people, have not done the first things of teaching it. The data is much worse than just something you might think emanates from the campuses right now –the 41% of Americans under age 35 who think the First Amendment goes too far. If you ask the general voting public, can you name some of the freedoms in the First Amendment, what is the Bill of Rights about, what can you name? 57% can name freedom of speech. 57%. 19% name freedom of religion as a freedom that exists, and none of the other three freedoms in the First Amendment break 10%. Think about that.
… and then he challenges those joining the ranks of government to uphold principles of federalism and separation of powers:
…And all of those of you who will soon have the chance to go back into government and those of us who will be cheering you on the outside as you take on that important executive branch calling, your jobs are not chiefly about the policy outcomes when you serve your new president. Your job is about the administration of justice, because the checks and balances that you believed in two weeks ago and that Fed-Soc was founded about 35 years ago, are not just your new callings when you take the oath. But you have this special new catechetical opportunity. Because when people stand up against power and they disagreed with that power, no one’s surprised. They all expected that. What’s glorious is when people believe in limited government and restraint, when we are the ones in power. And we now have the opportunity to model that restraint.