Bill of Rights Day - December 15, 2008
Bill of Rights Day is a celebration of our heritage. We are extremely fortunate to live in this country, a country founded by the blood of patriots, safeguarded through the years by the sacrifice of brave soldiers, a country based on the principles of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government. A country where the power of the state is subservient to the rights of the individual.
Throughout human history, people have lived, labored, and died under the authority of kings and despots, tyrannical regimes, and even democracies (wherein the majority 51% subjugated the 49% minority). But America was different. The concept of rights as embraced by our founding fathers is truly revolutionary. As we read the Bill of Rights, listen closely to the way they wrote these words, “Congress shall make no law..”, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons…shall not be violated”. These are restrictions on government, not a list of the rights of the people. You see, rights do not come from government, a king, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, or any piece of paper or works of man; they are inherent in every human being.
We possess the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and many others, and as long as you do not violate others’ rights, you may live your life as you see fit without interference from government. The power of the state is subservient to the rights of the individual. This is the key that made this country different. It is what makes the United States of America special.
The 10th Amendment Speaks to the Heart of the Principle of Limited Government
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution specifically lists or enumerates the powers of the federal government. They include a military, federal courts, etc. The 10th Amendment clearly says that unless a function is specifically listed in the Constitution, it is left to the states or the people. The founders set up a system where there was competition among the states for the best ideas. On any given topic, some states would perform well, some would pass imprudent laws, and some would stay out of it completely (which is my particular favorite option). But there was competition, and competition breeds excellence. Yes, you would have a couple bad apples, but these would soon reform under the pressure of that competition. It is better than focusing all of the power in Washington and having one huge rotten apple. The top-down, centralized government model is a failure, just like it was in the former Soviet Union.
Sadly, the 10th Amendment has been brushed aside. The federal government has slowly over the years become involved in education, finance, retirement savings, crime control, transportation, health care; the list goes on and on (and on). In fact it is difficult to name one aspect of our lives the tentacles of the national bureaucracy do not reach. Because government possesses the unique characteristic of the “Reverse Midas Touch”, most of that intervention has resulted in making things worse and/or creating new unforeseen negative side effects.
So what happened? On one hand we have a well written Constitution that wisely limits the powers of the central government, and here in reality we have the exact opposite. The erosion has mainly been predicated on the power of the Congress to regulate interstate commerce, which was given to the Congress so that one state could not impose taxes on another state. It has been interpreted over the years to mean much, much more. We reject those rulings and believe they should be overturned.
Even if someone could find a topic and make a convincing argument that it should involve the national government, the onus is still on them to amend the Constitution. The founders supplied that function to us for a reason. Over the past hundred years, supporters of big government knew they could not muster the political strength necessary to get their agenda through the amendment process, so they found another way. They appointed and approved justices to the courts who would simply distort the interpretation of the Constitution in their favor. We’ve all heard, “The Constitution is a living document”. Well, that is pure nonsense. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are written in plain English; we know exactly what the founders meant. It is unacceptable that we have allowed big government proponents to take the easy way out, bypassing the legitimate hurdles of the amendment process, and simply purport the Constitution means something other than what it clearly says.
As we on this day reflect on that which was bestowed upon us, let us realize that there are forces that wish to undermine that blessing. The time to act is now. Like it or not, we must become politically involved. When you are evaluating candidates for public office, ask them, “Do you believe that the Constitution is written in plain English and means what it says, or is it O.K. for the national government to be meddling in education and health care?” Ask them for their stance on the horrid and unbelievable McCain-Feingold legislation that limits political speech. Demand a straight answer to the question, “Will you work to reverse the perversion of the meaning of the term “public use” that has allowed local governments to take our home and land for unscrupulous purposes?”
The Bill of Rights is 217 years YOUNG. I say YOUNG for a reason. We who espouse the virtues of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government have been accused of “living in the past” or “just wanting to take us back in time”. Well, nothing could be further from the truth; it is exactly the opposite. Remember what I said about our long human history and think of it in that context: before the United States there were kings, despots, and democracies, all of which violated freedom of individuals. Now there are new types of oppression (communism, socialism) but it’s the same thing, some people enslaved to others. In the grand scheme of things, the founding of United States of America and the ascendancy of individual freedom is new, different, exciting, a true breath of fresh air and enlightenment. Those who want big government are the ones taking us backwards, back to a time when people were subservient to the state or other people. Abridging freedom takes us backwards. Advancing liberty moves us forward.
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