With All Your Protections in a Binder on His Desk

After my Due Process post, I received a letter from a friend — a tax attorney — who agreed with my central point about the modern tyrannical state, but who did want to defend the IRS on the point I was making about due process.

“Although I agree with you that the modern administrative state is overreaching and Tyrannical, I believe it is untrue to characterize IRS assessment and collection processes as being ‘without due process.’”

As he defines his terms, I quite agree with him. And as I am defining mine, he (I think) would agree with me. By due process, I did not mean orderly process, or defined process, or published beforehand process. I agree with my friend that all that and more occurs during the processes of tax assessment and collection. Bureaucrats are nothing if not rule-guided creatures.

But before expanding further on what I mean by due process, I need to lurch off into this side paragraph for a moment to explain what I am doing. On this point, I am simply tracking and agreeing with Philip Hamburger’s foundational arguments in his Is Administrative Law Unlawful? This also addresses the objections of those who believe that I have inexplicably set myself up as an expert in constitutional law, har har har, doing so with a degree in philosophy from the University of Idaho, har har har. But Hamburger is a professor of law at Columbia Law School, and the book is published by The University of Chicago Press. Thus it is that I tentatively conclude that a man may agree with Hamburger while remaining clothed and in his right mind. Unless, of course, we have gotten to such a point of administrative tyranny that we are not allowed to decide on our own experts anymore, but must go with the constitutional experts who are assigned to us. These would usually be the living document johnnies, the ones who think that the right to keep and bear arms means that you can’t.

Where was I? As I mentioned, by due process I do not mean orderly process. I grant that the IRS gives us that. I am talking about three basic ways in which our interactions with the IRS — and the administrative state generally — violate the historical understanding of due process. First, the process is inquisitorial. Second, such processes tend to invert the presumption of innocence. And third, a man can get into serious trouble without ever coming near a court of law. This is a problem because the IRS is part of the executive branch. If I am in legal trouble, my troubles should begin in a judicial court, not end there, or miss a real court entirely.

Now as my friend pointed out, if a man plays his cards right, he can wind up in a legitimate tax court. But it is perilously easy for the average guy to not play his cards right.

In other words, if in one circumstance I am suspected of shorting the government by five thousand dollars in 2011, and in another circumstance I am suspected of shooting old Henry Spivvins in a bar fight in 2011, my legal exposure in these two scenarios is entirely and completely different.

Tangled Blatts

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #165

And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air” (1 Cor. 14:7–9)

Paul’s argument here is a fortiori, a “how much more” argument. A melody cannot be made out apart from a distinction of notes, whether from a pipe, or harp. And if a trumpet gives a series of tangled blatts, how will the troops know to get ready for battle? Unless there is distinction in the notes, the whole operation is just a disturbance in the air. In the same way, speaking in an unknown tongue apart from interpretation is just so much noise.

Therefore, in a Christian worship service clarity and ease of understanding are to be prized. We are to stand opposed to anything that gets in the way of such understanding, even if that something is edifying to this person or that one individually. The body needs to be able to say amen.

When the Heart is Gone

“So let us try to forget the word evangelical as a demographic description. Let us try to forget the word liturgical as a description of the boring church you grew up in. Let us try to forget the word doctrine as it was handled by that great nineteenth-century divine, the Rev. Dr. Snodgood, in three volumes” (Against the Church, p. 203).

Pursued by . . . Hounds

In a few weeks, the short film The Hound of Heaven will be premiering in London at the Raindance Film Festival. It was made here in Moscow, directed by Nate, and is spooky good. After it releases, I will let you know how you can see it. In the meantime, click on the picture for more.

Hound Heaven

Keeping It Simple

After a few days have gone by, I finally got around to watching the clip of Ted Cruz addressing a dinner hosted by “In Defense of Christians” (IDC). I had seen it referred to in various ways, but with some online calling it a despicable stunt on the part of Cruz.

I saw the entire clip, and not just the part where Cruz left the stage. And I have to say that my respect for Cruz has gone up significantly. It was not a stunt at all — but rather a plain statement of simple principles that ought to be unexceptional .

Having written on Israel fairly often, I believe that I am on the record with regard to the usual and necessary disclaimers. You can read some of that here or here. Zionism was a bad idea. Jews without Jesus need Jesus, just like everybody else. Israel is part of the secularized West, and fully partakes of all the corruption that this entails. This means that I am not shilling for anybody. If you find me something appalling that Israel has done — and this is not a hypothetical — then I will denounce it as appalling. For example, Israel’s tolerance of abortion is as despicable as our own.

But what we are talking about — what Ted Cruz was talking about — was the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Plight is too mild a word for what they have been going through, and Israel is a natural ally to them. And it will not do to point to what Israel has done to those Christians who have been used as human shields. The evil there is done by those who put up such a shield — Israel does have a shield in their Iron Dome, by which they protect their children. There is quite a difference between protecting your children with your weapons, which Israel does, and protecting your weapons with your children, which Hamas does.

It also will not do to point to the Muslim Kurds as friends to the Christians, as they have been. But those same Kurds, for the same reasons, are not hostile to Israel the way the radical jihadis are. There are 200,000 Jewish Kurds living in Israel. And the Kurds who have been providing safe haven for refugee Christians were trained by Israel.

There is, of course, more to say, but that will do for the present. A well done to Senator Cruz.

Due Process, or Do the Process?

Some, like myself, believe that coercion without warrant from Scripture is a very bad thing. For others this category of coercion is largely invisible. It just appears to be part of the way things are.

In this installment, I want to explain how unlawful coercion is a very real characteristic of our governmental system, and also explain why it is so destructive. This is important for us to grasp because the “powers that be,” to use Tyndale’s phrase, are entrusted by God with the lawful power of coercion. They do not bear the sword for nothing (Rom. 13:4). At the same time, these authorities, who may lawfully coerce, can also cross over a particular line and become abusive and tyrannical. If we don’t know where that line is, or how to police it, then we are naifs, babes in the woods, tyros, despot-fodder.

Such a good question . . .

Such a good question . . .

I have been working off the phrase in the Declaration that says that men have certain inalienable rights, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was a more elegant and poetic way of saying “life, liberty, and property” — a phrase that comes up in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. No one may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Incidentally, while on this subject, the “due process of law” referred to here prohibits administrative agencies from doing a number on us. When an administrative agency (say, the IRS) conducts an inquisitorial investigation, finds against the one investigated, and levies a fine, it is acting like a prime example of the kind of government our Constitution was expressly designed to prohibit. Our current form of government is profoundly illegal. But while we are here, on the point of “due process,”  we can also point out that the word choice of unalienable in the Declaration was not strictly speaking accurate. The word means “impossible to take away or give up,” and what was meant — as the Constitution made clear — these rights may not be taken away without due process in each individual instance. It did not mean “impossible to take away.” A man may lawfully be deprived of his life, his liberty, or his property. That is what criminal courts do to felons.

Now recognition by the government that the right to life, liberty and property are rights that are given by God, and not by the Congress assembled in their majesty, is the first step toward the government doing its appointed job of guarding and protecting these rights. In effect, when the government recognizes that these rights are God-given, it means that the government is in a position to perform its God-given function, which is to protect the citizenry from being murdered, enslaved, or robbed. When the government does not recognize that these rights are God-given, this means that they are actually first in line to be the abusers of these rights.

When men who rule do not fear God, the people mourn (Prov. 29:2). To take these three categories as representative, our godless government is responsible for the murder of 50 million Americans (abortion), the enslavement of a million others Americans (our demented prison system), and the pillaging of millions of children yet unborn (our rapacious and absurd national debt).
The authorities that exist are charged by God to reward the righteous and punish the wrongdoer, and these categories are defined by the standard of what God tells us in Scripture. And when it comes to our own cases, we all know what these standards are. We know and protect our own right to life, our own desire for freedom, and our own stuff.

I want to argue that our right to these things is the right to the same things regardless of whether the one threatening them is a thug in an alley, or a bureaucrat behind a desk. Life means the same thing in both instances. So does liberty. This being the case, property refers to the same thing as well. What a mugger takes and what the IRS takes is, at bottom, the same thing — my hard earned cash.

The key difference is found in that a government official may possibly be doing what he is doing legitimately.

Now it is a funny New Yorker cartoon, but Charles the First actually tried it.

Now it is a funny New Yorker cartoon, but Charles the First actually tried it.

Even though it is possible for the government to behave coercively without being unrighteous, we have to recognize the potential for abuse here. Because of that potential, the burden of proof is on the government to show that they are not acting like thieving scoundrels. A high threshold, I know . . . So this is what due process means. In order for the government to be doing the right thing when it seizes property, and to be known to be doing the right thing, it is necessary for the laws to be grounded in God’s moral order as revealed in nature and Scripture, to be understandable in principle, to be published beforehand, to have been established by representatives of the people, and to be enforced even-handedly in open courts of law, and not by star chambers or high commissions. Our current form of government does not meet these standards.

And anything else is called stealing.