Posted by: Harold Knight | 07/05/2010

A Bauble Hanging from Justice Scalia’s Neck

I’m declaring my independence. Or is it my freedom?


pendant (n.)
c.1400, “loose, hanging part of anything,” from Anglo-Fr. pendaunt “hanging” (c.1300), from O.Fr. pendant (13c.), noun use of prp. of pendre “to hang,” from L. pendere “to hang,” from PIE base *(s)pen(d)- “to pull, stretch” (see span (v.)).

(v.) early 15c., “to be attached to as a condition or cause,” a figurative use, from M.Fr. dependre, lit. “to hang from, hang down,” from L. dependere, from de– “from, down” + pendere “to hang, be suspended” (see pendant).

1530s (n.), c.1600 (adj.), from Fr. dépendance (15c.), from O.Fr. despendence (14c.), from dependant, from L. dependere (see depend).

(n.) 1630s, from M.L. independentia (see independent). (1)

“To depend” is a figurative use of the Latinate verb for “to hang from.” To depend is to hang from. “Dependence” is the noun form, so it means the act of hanging. “Dependent” is the adjective form, so it describes something hanging, since the 15th century referring to persons. Attaching “in” (Latinate for “not”) before someone who hangs, we get someone who does not hang. Adding “in” to the act of hanging, we get the act of not hanging.

That “depend” is a figurative use of “hang” should be instructive. Those who are “dependent” hang from some [thing, person, idea—think a huge diamond bauble on a chain around your neck]. The salient feature here is “figurative.” “Figure,” comes from the Old French meaning “shape;” one of its meanings is to “picture a shape in the mind.” Hence, “figure of speech,” or a word that helps us picture something in our mind. Picturing a pendant in our mind as we think of a person, we get the idea of someone hanging on for dear life to someone else.

In 1776, the British colonies in North America were hanging around the neck of King George III and Parliament. Rather than hanging around George’s neck and feeling pretty and loved, the people of the colonies were sick of being attached—for many reasons.

So they Declared to the world that they no longer wanted to hang around the neck of the grandson of the first German king of England (who never bothered to learn English and who, because his wife was in prison for adultery brought two mistresses with him to London from Hanover). The grandson was not appreciably more respectable.

A side note:

free (adj.)
O.E. freo “free, exempt from, not in bondage,” also “noble, joyful,” from P.Gmc. frijaz (cf. M.H.G. vri, Ger. frei, Du. vrij, Goth. freis “free”). . . .

freedom (n.)
O.E. freodom (see free).

The Germanic king had one thing going for him. His language produced the English word “free.”

The Declaration of Independence is NOT a dissertation on “freedom.” It’s a laundry list of the colonists’ complaints about the way the Germanic king was treating them. The word “free” appears only three times, not once referring to personal freedom:

Reason 20 – “For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province. . . .”
Reason 28 – “. . . A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. . . .”
“We, therefore. . .  in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states. . . . “

Jefferson referred to the whole people (the American “people,” not the American “persons”). The colonies are “free and independent,” not the citizens. Because he begins his argument saying we’re “created equal” and continues with those other mantras of American unconsciousness, many people think the D of I is about personal freedom and equality—not one country yanking itself from the chain it’s been hanging on around the neck of another.

I spent the Fourth of July alone, being personally both free and independent. I played the organ. I fed the cats. I watched mindless TV (which I turned off when Reba McEntire began singing “God Bless America”—no criticism of Reba, but, Oh, My God, will that song never go away?). I ate healthy food.

“God Bless America” would not have been so offensive if I hadn’t spent several hours researching (as I often do) background of the used-to-be-American idea that Congress shall make no law forcing religion on me. Used to be! I’ve had it with the christianists in this country who want me to be religious in the way they are. The problem is not, however, that they want ME to be christian the way they are:  They want the PEOPLE to be christian the way they are.

Take, for example, Michael W. McConnell, former Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, now Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University. He’s one of the cadre of conservative christianist lawyers determined to undo thinking of our courts regarding separation of church and state that has developed over the last two centuries.  McConnell wrote a long (and terrifying in its brilliant one-sidedness) study of the “real” beliefs of the Founders about separation of church and state (2). In his acknowledgments he thanks:

John Garvey – Dean of the Boston College Law School (a Roman Catholic University).
Philip Hamburger – Professor Columbia University Law School:

“…modern suppositions about the wisdom and influence of Jefferson’s words regarding separation have developed largely as a twentieth-century mythan account that has become popular precisely because it has seemed to provide constitutional authority for separation (3).

Mary McConnell (the author’s wife) – legislative assistant for Jack Kemp; speech writer for Caspar Weinberger;  in 2004 she was named the top Diocesan educator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
John Witte – Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory Law School; graduate of Calvin College where his lecture for the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth was introduced:

“John Calvin called for the separation of church and state but not the division of religion and politics. He advocated human rights but always with corresponding religious duties. He accepted democracy and rule of law but within the confines of a refined and rigorous Christian republicanism” (4).

Okay, I sound like one of those anti-Catholic (and anti-Calvinist?) bigots I disliked when John Kennedy ran for President. I admit it. However, if you can look at this list of legal minds and not worry, you’re a far more independent person than I am. My fear is about the current effect these legal intellectual giants have outside the classroom.

Six of the current Supreme Court Justices are Roman Catholics (five conservative men). They recently set aside the legal precedent that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals (British Petroleum is, according to them, a person). Despite their self-declared strict-constructionism, they have no compunction against “legislating from the bench.” So here’s my worst guilt-by-association thinking. Which legal scholars will those six justices (or their law clerks) read when they decide Snyder v. Phelps? Or, if the court hears Kristin M. Perry v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose ideas regarding religion and society will they read?

It is, of course, not rhetorically sound to ask such questions. But rhetoric aside, I fear—quite literally, being a gay man—for my freedom. For my independence. I do not want to be a pendant around the necks of five straight christianist men. Or anyone else, for that matter.
(1 ) All etymologies from Douglas Harper. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2001-2010 Web. 26 June 2010.
(2) McConnell, Michael W. “Establishment and disestablishment at the founding, part I: establishment of religion.” William and Mary Law Review 44.5 (2003): 2105+.
(3) Hamburger, Philip. Separation of Church and State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. (The conservative magazine The National Review refers to this book as “magisterial.”)


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