Happy Constitution Day, America!
Today, 17 September 2007, is the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. I would be the last to consider it a perfect document (no human document is). The original, un-amended Constitution counted African-Americans as 3/4 of a human being for census purposes and allowed slavery. Voting was originally restricted to white males with property. U.S. Senators were originally elected by the state legislatures, rather than by direct franchise.
I’d still like to add several amendments: an Equal Rights Amendment that disallows discrimination on the basis of gender; an amendment to abolish the death penalty; an amendment abolishing the Electoral College and electing the U.S. President by direct franchise (popular vote) and one allowing a vote of no confidence that could force an early election; an amendment guaranteeing (civil) marriage to same-sex couples. Others doubtless would have other amendments.
Still, at a time when Habeas corpus is being dismantled; when torture is public policy; when the president ALONE (with no review)can call someone an “enemy combatant” and suddenly they can be held indefinitely without trial; when citizens can be spied upon with impunity; when the attitude toward the Constitution is that it is an inconvenience to be avoided, rather than the legal protection of our liberties; –in such an era, I feel incredibly protective toward the U.S. Constitution.
A recent poll, sadly, found that more Americans could name 2 or more Simpsons’ characters than could name more than 1 of the 5 freedoms protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. (For your review, they are freedom of religion and church-state separation; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of assembly; the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.)
Sure, it’s a flawed human document–which is why it’s ability to be amended is important. It has proven remarkably flexible as it has guided this nation from an 18th C. rural beginning to a postmodern, multicultural era. I am protective of this document and embarrassed at how disdainfully it is treated both by the current administration and by citizens who would rather be consumers of bread and circuses. I hope respect for constitutional law will be reinvigorated.
Civil governments of all kinds are, at best, penultimate goods–not the Rule of God. But a constitutional democracy with checks and balances and protection of human rights is a penultimate GOOD, not bad. The last 7 years, as I have been horrified at the direction of my nation, I have both realized more and more that a Christian’s ultimate loyalty can never be to any nation-state or civil arrangement, and simultaneously desired the vigorous defense and renewal of the American experiment in constitutional law. As flawed documents go, this one ain’t bad.
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