Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sins of the father

In Christianity and the Constitution (1987), John Eidsmoe identifies principles in the Constitution which have a Biblical origin. One such piece of the Constitution, writes Eidsmoe (p. 375), is contained in Article III, Section 3:

"The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted."

No "corruption of blood" means the traitor's children are not made lepers because their dad sold secrets to the Russians. I presume in the over two decades since his book was published, someone has notified Professor Eidsmoe that he erroneously quoted the last word as "attained" rather that "attainted." That's understandable; how often does one encounter "attainted"?

Anyway, Eidsmoe notes that this constitutional provision is similar to Deuteronomy 24:16:

"The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin."

What a fine concept; don't hold dependent children responsible for the conduct of their parents. It's been a long road to reach this noble idea; humanity is loaded with examples of offspring suffering for the misdeeds--or perceived misdeeds--of those who bore them. We see this everywhere from Greek mythology (Hera exacting revenge on Zeus for sleeping around by persecuting Hercules, the son resulting from one of his illegitimate liaisons, see Mythology by Edith Hamilton, 1942, pp. 223-243) to the Russian Revolution (the Bolsheviks not only killed the tsar and tsarina, but also their children, servants, and dog, see The Human Story by James B. Davis, 2004, p. 302).

We have over time, here in America, progressed from a mere notion that a child should not be punished for a parent's treasonous or criminal act to a more expansive view that the kid is not to suffer for any of mom or dad's little transgressions. Like, for instance, not being actually legally married when they conceive him. Writing around the time of the American Revolution, Sir William Blackstone put succinctly what rights of inheritence a bastard child had:

"...(H)e can inherit nothing, being looked upon as the son of nobody, and sometimes called filius nullius, sometimes filius populi." (Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 1, p. 447; "fillius mullius" means "a son of nobody" while "filius populi" means "the son of the people.")

It wasn't until 1968 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared it a violation of Fourteenth Amendment equal protection to restrict the right of children to sue for wrongful death of a parent to those progeny conceived legitimately, see Levy v. Louisiana,391 U.S.68 (1968)(

Well I'm glad we don't do that sort of thing anymore, restrict the blessings of democracy of kids whose mom or dad messed up, arent' you?

Not so fast:


"In the past two years, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Oklahoma have refused in-state tuition benefits to students who entered the USA illegally with their parents but grew up and went to school in the state."

I think this is very wrong and very shocking. Let me get this straight: if a Mexican couple waded across the Rio Grande in 1994 with a four year old on daddy's shoulders, and they settled in Georgia, and the kid has grown up in Atlanta, he should now be denied in-state tuition at the University of Georgia because of something his folks did when he was pre-school age?

I like the concept of Deuteronomy 24:16 and Article III, Section 3 better. Give the kids a break.

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