Last March former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that the U.S. government "failed to prevent the tragedy of 9/11." He proceeded to apologize for that failure.

At the same hour that Clarke testified to the 9/11 Commission, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. There Michael Newdow argued that the United States no longer should be acknowledged as "one nation under God." Those two hearings may at first glance seem unrelated. But there is an important link.

Of course the government failed to prevent the attack on the Twin Towers. But beyond that, the government also failed to prevent the Chicago Fire, the San Francisco Earthquake, the Johnstown Flood, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the stock-market crash of 1929, the Holocaust, the aids epidemic, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine killings, Hurricane Whatshername, the Enron meltdown, and a long list of other tragedies and disasters, both natural and man-made.

Clarke seemed to presume that "your government" should somehow have been able to anticipate and prevent evil from happening—both the evil that we call natural disasters, and the evil that comes directly from the hearts and hands of evil people. It is a false premise. To presume the government's ability to prevent such a catastrophe is to assume that it possesses qualities and abilities that no person, let alone a government, can ever possess.

Omniscience and omnipotence are qualities that we ascribe only to God. Clarke fails to recognize the inherent limitations of government. The U.S. Constitution certainly envisions no omniscience or omnipotence for the federal government.

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