In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Modest Proposal

As we approach America's Independence Day this year, I would like to propose a change in the official motto of New York state, where I live. Currently it is Excelsior, a Latin and archaic English word meaning "ever higher" or "ever upwards." The motto doesn't specify just what it is that is, or should be, moving higher or upwards.

I would like to suggest something more meaningful. The following legend has appeared on New York state court process such as writs and subpoenas, on public notices, and on some old land grants, for almost 200 years:

By the Grace of God Free and Independent

I've always thought this a most inspiring aphorism. It acknowledges the central principles on which this nation was founded--freedom and independence. And it declares forthrightly, unashamedly, the ultimate source of those blessings: the grace of God. Taken together, it's a fervent prayer of thanksgiving and an exultant declaration of what we are and how we mean to be, always . . .

. . . by the people of the State of New York? Really?

This particular group of people is among the most heavily regulated in the United States. I should know; not only am I a near life-long resident of the state, but in my role as an attorney editor for a legal publishing firm, I manage two large encyclopedias of New York law and resort daily to the state's massive compendia of statutes, rules, and administrative regulations. New Yorkers are also among the most heavily taxed people in America (second only, I think, to the people of New Jersey). Oppressive laws and taxes were the bedrock causes of America's rebellion against the British Empire.

Is that why New York is nicknamed the "Empire State"? And does our official motto Excelsior refer to tax rates that are "ever higher" or "ever upwards"?

And what are we "independent" of? Could our state's government even begin to function, in the way most people now expect it to, without massive infusions of money from the federal government (just like almost every other state)? Could it, or would it, ever do anything independently of the political satraps and money barons of New York City?

Perhaps we should re-read and take to better heart that saying on our court papers, By the Grace of God Free and Independent. Isn't it time to remember, re-affirm, and commit ourselves to making that marvelous declaration a genuine reality?

Incidentally, I've done some research (which is my job, after all) and find no indication that the American Civil Liberties Union, nor any professional atheist, has ever mounted a legal challenge to this particular reference to God on official court documents in New York. Maybe they've just overlooked it (though you'd think that the New York chapters of ACLU spawn enough subpoenas in a year that "By the Grace of God Free and Independent" would have caught someone's eye over there). Well, that's all right with me--they wouldn't appreciate it anyway. The rest of us can just adopt this as OUR motto, and recognize it as truth in our personal lives if not quite, yet, in the polity in which we live.

By the Grace of God Free and Independent

Wouldn't that look great on our license plates?

Don't hold your breath on that one.


JoJo said...

I like your idea! But I'm not holding my breath either.

Anonymous said...

OMG--I absolutely agree with what you've said! Methinks that, to the dysfunctional 'government' that is in Albany, the "Empire" in "Empire State" is talking about THEIR little political fiefdoms! And let's hope and pray the ACLU doesn't find out about "By the Grace of God Free and Independent"! GREAT JOB!