The Penn State story is far from over, but it’s not too early to share a few observations. John Adams famously wrote, “Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Adams was referring, of course, to our intentionally limited form of government. The US Constitution, even with its subsequent amendments, is a relatively brief document. A freedom-loving people, from Adams’ perspective, would not require excessive governance; their religious and moral character would keep worldly passions in check. Limited regulations would preserve those blood-bought freedoms for generations to come.
But our forefathers defined the word “tolerance” much more differently than we do today. Tolerance in the 18thcentury was a virtue: the willingness to accept differing points of view. With common mores firmly in place, divergent perspectives would not be able to seriously damage the common good. Tolerance today, however, has morphed into the perceived right to say and do whatever the individual wishes. America, through the lens of the New Tolerance, is no greater than the sum of its parts. Common morality (and common sense, for that matter) has fallen victim to the notion that individual rights somehow extend beyond life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When the individual decides what is right in his own eyes, apart from an accepted common standard, the line between what is permissible and what is beneficial becomes irrevocably blurred.
Adultery, for example, is legal, though morally reprehensible…to most. Abortion is legal, though a mere thread of human decency has compelled our later-day politicians to prohibit the procedure in the final stages of pregnancy. Adults having sex with children at the tender age of consent is abhorrent, yet completely legal. Polls indicate that the common sense of morality and decency still stands at odds with such practices, but those opinions are most definitely changing.
All of which, brings us back to the current Penn State scandal. Because of the new tolerance, and our limited form of government, legal culpability and moral responsibility have often become two divergent paths. If I secretly discovered my neighbor was beating his wife, I would have no legal compulsion to report it. But I do have a moral responsibility to help save her life. Clearly, even if Joe Paterno and his associates followed the letter of the law as established by Penn State…that is, simply report an alleged egregious offense to one’s superiors, and do nothing else…moral responsibility should dictate that a man and an organization that have been all about improving the lives of young people for some 48 years would do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of those young people entrusted to their care.
So, by removing Paterno and Spanier, it would appear the Penn State Board of Trustees is moving swiftly in the proper direction. I suspect the motivation for that action was less than altruistic. When the inevitable lawsuits come, the Board can say that "we did the right thing." Sadly, it’s just a little too late to preserve the innocence of those 8 little boys.