I was shocked to find out that last month the most massive outcry in U.S. history against any piece of legislation had been subjected to a virtual news blackout.
Telephone calls to the U.S. Capitol switchboard of up to 450,000 on a Thursday and 500,000 on Friday (with a peak of 80,000 calls per hour at one point) were blowing circuits and overwhelming relays in protest of the so-called Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (alias `Grove City Bill').That volume of calls alone should have been front page news, and yet not a peep or hint was heard from any major print or electronic media. That is, until literally the last vote was cast on the issue. Then there was a flood of reports largely praising the bill and castigating opponents, but still total silence on the magnitude of the opposition.
To add insult to injury, the stories that finally did emerge were distorted in three areas: First, it was reported that the president's veto was rejected by an "overwhelming" margin. The fact is the veto was overridden in the House by only 3 votes (292 out of 289 needed). Two swing votes would have killed it, and that alone may explain why the powers that be did not want to really alert the populace of what was going on until it was all over.
Second, all opposition to the bill was lumped as pro-discrimination and anti-civil rights. In fact, the opposition was to the loose wording of who will be included under "handicapped" or "minority," and to the unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into the privacy of all Americans.
Repeated attempts by the White House staff to eliminate ambiguity was rejected by Sen. Kennedy's staff. They said they wanted the courts to interpret it instead, and already the courts have included AIDS victims, transvestites, and alcoholics as "handicapped" and are on the verge of including homosexuals as a "minority." True, AIDS victims and homosexuals are not specifically mentioned in the bill the don't have to be. That is why the Gay Rights groups were frantically lobbying for it.
And who is covered by the new regulations? Any private enterprise, religious organization, etc., accepting either direct aid or, get this, "indirect aid," from the federal government. "Indirect aid" includes those places where direct aid recipients spend their money. So recipients of food stamps, welfare checks, Social Security, V.A. benefits, etc. become federal "Typhoid Marys" spreading the plague of government regulation wherever they spend or donate money.
That is why President Reagan called it the most massive power grab by the federal government in history. This establishes a new method to transmit whatever future regulations the Congress in it's superior wisdom deems best for us. But, now get this, after pontificating about how this bill was necessary to redress the evils of discrimination over the past 150 years, Congress specifically exempted itself and all their staff from its provisions.
The medicine was all right for us peons, but they didn't want to personally face the bother of compliance and the mountain of paperwork required under penalty of federally financed lawsuits to prove compliance. What Hyocrites!
The last, but not least, major objection was the unprecedented intrusion of the state into the church. A specific amendment by Senator Hatch to exempt churches and religious organizations was voted down, leaving no doubt as to at least one intended target. Now churches and church controlled entitles such as private schools, day-care facilities, hospitals, etc., have to submit to seeking an exemption to be granted (or denied) by an unidentified federal administrator. The "Separation of Church and State" Doctrine has been violated with a vengeance.
To illustrate, can you imagine the instant and thunderous outcry from the ACLU if a federal agency had to submit an application to a church board to exempt the agency's hiring practices from being regulated by the church? It matters not how routinely that exemption is granted, just the petitioning process establishes entanglement. That is why the millions of calls the other week protesting the loss of religious freedom, in addition to the other reasons for concern.
Incidentally, attributing the opposition to a single letter mailed out by the Moral Majority must have been flattering to Rev. Falwell's abilities, but the fact is that you don't generate 80,000 individual phone calls in an hour to Congress by one mailing. Ask any direct mailing firm. That kind of landslide only comes for a truly grassroots movement unlike any before in history.
Even the admittedly highly organized and meticulously orchestrated opposition to the Judge Bork's nomination by NOW, ACLU, gay rights activists, etc. could at their frenized peak only generate a small fraction of the calls and letters seen in the Grove City fight. And yet it was front page news for weeks and counted as a "mandate" to reject his nomination.
Now, the incredible gall of a majority of congressmen to get up and dismiss this much greater mandate as merely an organized effort by "an emotional bunch of right-wing fundamentalists kooks" who don't know what they are talking about is a slap on the face of their constituency.
It is to the praise and credit of our Utah Congressional delegation, with one notable exception, that they solidly stood against this bill. They valued the right to privacy and religious freedom above the peer pressure of their collegues on the Hill.
The plague of governmental intrusion into the privacy of Americans everywhere that was unleashed by this bill will haunt us in court decisions for generations to come. But so will the stinging memory in the minds of millions of constituents at election time of certain congressmen who ignored them and summarily relagated their opinions to the office wastebasket.
(Frank Strickland is chairman of the Board of the Associated Utah Christian Ministries.)