Interviewee: John Perna
IWY SC 622
Interviewer: Kathie J. Carter
Date: June 10, 1977
John Perna, of Cayce, South Carolina, was a chemist who attended the state IWY meeting to represent the anti-Equal Rights Amendment perspective. Perna, 29, believed the ERA to be a “power grab” by the government. He did not believe the true purpose of the IWY conferences was to discuss women’s concerns and issues, rather, he understood the IWY to be actively lobbying on behalf of ERA ratification. Interview includes discussion of why Perna believed that government was the “enemy of human rights”, his views on equal opportunity hiring practices and civil rights legislation, and how he believed the Constitution to be a “sacred document.”
KC: First of all, would you give us your name and your address?
JP: Okay, my name is John Perna, I’m–526 Brookcliff Road, Cayce, South Carolina.
KC: Mr. Perna, what brought you to this meeting today?
JP: I came to this meeting to see to it that all the Americans—all the South Carolina people were represented in this meeting, which is funded by the federal government. And I thought that the meeting was being funded by all of the people, tending to represent only a small minority of the opinions of the people of South Carolina. And I wanted to see to it that a meeting that was paid for by all of the people have all of the people’s opinions represented there, rather than just a small minority.
KC: What opinions do you feel was going to be just represented—
JP: What has already been represented quite thoroughly at the meeting—although they have claimed all along that they were not going to make any issue of the ERA, but if you read through the booklet that’s in every packet that everyone received, that promotes the ERA very strongly. As does most of the speakers that have gotten up. They started off, the very first few minutes, by opening with the statement given by Jimmy Carter, endorsing the ERA.
And then they had a skit, which was a satirical take-off from the women’s suffrage movement, relating it to the ERA movement, using satire as a means of ridiculing people who are opposed to the ERA. And I believe, first of all, that the government should never fund anything political in nature; but if it is going to fund anything, it ought to be unbiased and free to everyone. This is about the same kind of thing as using government money to back a candidate. Using government money to push for an amendment to the Constitution is about as unorthodox or as dictatorial as anything the government has ever done.
And I think the reason the government is putting money behind—pushing for the endorsement of the amendment to the Constitution called the Equal Rights Amendment, is because of the increased powers that would be transferred to the federal government if the Equal Rights Amendment passed; such as those that would be provided for in the second clause, that says that, “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of the amendment.” Well, the whole rest of the Constitution is a restriction of government’s power. If you read the first ten amendments, if you go through it all, it says ‘Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’, all the way on through—all these restrictions that are placed on government.
Then it gets to the Tenth Amendment; and the Tenth Amendment says simply those powers are not specifically delegated to the United States–which means the federal government–by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, or reserved to the states, or the people respecting it. Essentially, what that says is that the federal government has no authority to do anything, except what the Constitution specifically says it can do. So, what our founding fathers did when they drafted the Constitution, was to simply spell out—in many, many instances—those things that they specifically wanted to make sure that no one misunderstood the government had no authority to do.
And then, they got to the Tenth Amendment and kind of said, ‘well, if we forgot anything, well, you can’t do that, either’. And this is the essence of freedom; the limitation of government. Keeping government out of your life is how you stay free. The Equal Rights Amendment comes along, and says the government can do anything that they want to do, as long as they say that it has something to do with either men or women. It says ‘appropriate legislation’, now never in the amendment does it define the word ‘appropriate’, and ‘appropriate legislation’ is an extremely vague term to be incorporated into an amendment to the Constitution. An amendment to the Constitution is the only thing that overrides the Constitution. It’s the highest law in the land; the Constitution overrides all other laws in the land.
So, just as the Constitution overrides all laws in the land, and the amendment to the Constitution can override the highest law in the land—which is the Constitution—we should make sure that anything that is put in the Constitution, as an amendment to the Constitution, should be very precise in what it provides for; because it can strike down the very most fundamental parts of our Constitutional republic, it can override even the most basic—
KC: What do you think about the fact that this meeting—the purpose of it was to discuss problems common to females?
JP: Well, I don’t think that was the purpose at all.
KC: You do not feel that that was the purpose at all…
JP: No, that’s the stated purpose. The real purpose is to lobby in favor of the ERA, which I think they are successfully accomplishing.
KC: Do you believe that women have problems, strictly because they are female?
JP: I think that if there are problems that women have, as a result of female, these problems—if they result from the law—can be corrected by law, by statute law, by state legislators, by city councils, by mayors, by Congress, itself; and there is no need to amend the Constitution, to change anything that is not stated in the Constitution.
In other words, an amendment to the Constitution—‘amend’ means change— change the Constitution. If the Constitution said that women were not allowed to have equal rights, then you would need an amendment to the Constitution, so that you could change the Constitution to say that they did. But since the Constitution is not the source of any inequity that women feel, there’s no need to amend the Constitution to correct it. If there’s an inequity that women are suffering under, then they should go to the source of that inequity and change that thing, rather than tampering with the sacred document—the highest law in the land—the Constitution.
KC: What do you do?
JP: I’m a chemist.
KC: You’re a chemist?
KC: Are you a father?
JP: No, not yet. I’m a married man, though. I’ve got a wife; and she’s against the ERA. But, as far as I’m concerned, this is just another plank, in a long extended program, put on by the government to increase its own power. This is a power-grab.
KC: Why might you feel that the government is trying to increase its own power?
JP: Because it’s the nature of government. Government always attempts to expand itself. These people who work in government, they all work in agencies that are funded by appropriations from Congress, they have to justify their own salary, they have to ask for more money than they need, because their budget might be cut. And then if they get more money than they need, they have to spend it, because if they don’t spend it, they won’t be able to get that much again next year…and I’ve never heard of a government agency getting disbanded. They increase, and increase, and increase, and control more and more of your life, continuously.
KC: You say that you do not feel that the stated purpose of this meeting is indeed the real purpose…
JP: That’s right.
KC: Supposing— let’s just pretend that, from your point of view, it was indeed, to achieve—to have women come together and talk about problems they have in common.
JP: There’d be nothing wrong with that, but I still don’t think it should be funded by the federal government. The nature of government is to grab power, and that’s what government—George Washington, the father of our county, said ‘government is not eloquence. Government is not reason. Government is force. And like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master.’ And since that is the nature of government—government is force—you should be very careful what you allow government to participate in; also you should realize that what the government pays for, it will also control. Federal aid means federal control.
So, what I think the proper role of government is, is to simply protect our lives and our property from enemies, either foreign or domestic—they shouldn’t be interfering in our lives. They shouldn’t be telling us where to live, who to hire and fire, what wages to pay, or what prices to charge, any of those things. These are personal decisions that should be made by individuals. And when government attracts, to itself, the power it needs in order to meddle in our affairs, in excess of the power that they really need to protect life, liberty, and property, those powers are not being taken for the good of the people. They’re being taken for the good of the politicians.
KC: What is your position on human rights?
JP: I think human rights are essential to freedom, but the way you achieve human rights is to limit government. Government is the enemy of human rights. And the biggest enemy to human rights that ever has existed has been government. And the essence of freedom is the limitation of government. When you get government bound down—tied down—to the point where it is not capable of violating human rights, then human rights are guaranteed. But whenever you give government the power that it needs to regulate and control all the relationships between men and women, then you have given government the power to do away with your human rights.
If you read 1984, George Orwell’s book, the 1984 slave state had a slogan, it was called ‘freedom is slavery’. And if you look and see what’s going on today, you’ll find out that freedom can be slavery. Because every increase in government power is sold to the people as ‘civil rights’ or ‘human rights’. We are told, over and over again, that ‘we have to do this to give someone some more rights’, but it’s always more power for government—and more control for government. Like during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, they said, ‘okay, you have to have this facility open to this race, and that that race’ and all that kind of stuff, for the benefit of this race that’s being discriminated against. But we completely forgot about another human right, called the right of private property.
The right of private property says that a man who owns private property can do what he wants to with his own property; as long as he doesn’t endanger the life, liberty, or property of someone else. Now, if he doesn’t own it of course, if it’s owned jointly or if its public property, then all of the people should be able to share in the use of whatever is public property. But if something is owned by an individual—paid for and controlled by him—and we live in a free society, which respects a man’s right to hold private property, rather than a communistic society, where all property is taken from the individual; then a man ought to be allowed to choose exactly what is done with his private property. And no one should tell him who he has to hire, or who he has to fire, or what wages to pay, or what price to charge, or who he has to admit to his private property. And in the name of giving other people rights, they’re actually taking rights.
KC: Thank you for sharing your views with us. Would you mind telling your age?
JP: I’m twenty-nine.
KC: Thank you very much.
End of Interview