More Equal Than You

During the Clarence Thomas hearings, the members of the Senate judiciary committee were outraged over the problem of sexual harassment. What a disgrace, the Senators huffed. They almost looked ready to go out and personally enforce the law against harassment in offices across America. Then, a little later, came a startling revelation: Those same, self-righteous Senators exempt themselves from the law against sexual harassment. They wrote the law, but they don't have to obey it. What utter hypocrisy. But that's only one of several laws Congress exempts itself from. Here are some others. Congress exempts itself from the Social Security Act. Why not--it has its own plan, with a much more generous pension. Congress exempts itself from the Minimum Wage Act. What a way to thumb their noses at American business--saying, in effect, cheap labor is for us but not for you. Congress exempts itself from the Civil Rights Act. Lawsuits over charges of racism are another thing for ordinary Americans to worry about, not Congress. Congress exempts itself from the Freedom of Information Act, too. That's why we don't know which members were bouncing checks at the House bank. The Age Discrimination Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the American with Disabilities Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Privacy Act--you name it--none of them apply to Congress. And, oh yes--the Ethics in Government Act. That applies to the rest of government. Congress, presumably, doesn't need anyone watching its ethics. What all this reveals is an arrogant contempt for the rules that bind the rest of the nation. Lawmakers drop a yoke of costly and inconvenient laws on the necks of other people but refuse to wear it themselves. It's not only hypocrisy, it's plain bad government. How can our representatives know whether their laws are good when they don't have to live under them? And if they don't have to bear the burden created by bad laws, where is the incentive to create good ones? Worst of all, the system violates America's basic ideal of equality: namely, equality under the law. America doesn't promise that everyone will be equal in intelligence or wealth or fame. What it does promise is that no matter how smart or wealthy or famous you are, you will be treated the same as everyone else before a court of law. It's a principle with roots in the biblical teaching that all people stand at the bar of divine justice. The same law of God applies to everyone. This fundamental principle is violated when Congress places itself above the laws the rest of us must obey. Like the pigs in the famous novel Animal Farm, Congress is saying, everyone is equal--but we're more equal than you. The New York Times says years ago a young congressional aide was stopped by a Capitol policeman, who said, "Please don't jaywalk, sir. Unless you're a member [of Congress]." Whether it's laws against jaywalking or against sexual harassment, Americans should insist that Congress obey them just like everyone else. What's at stake is nothing less than the fundamental principle of equality under the law. Equality under the law means nobody is above the law.   Another commentary mentioning the Clarence Thomas hearnings.


Chuck Colson



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