Our Constitution is Not a Religion

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Our Constitution is Not a Religion

The current debates about guns in the U.S. have the flavor of religious believers.  Owning a gun or many guns of any type is a right guaranteed by the second amendment to the constitution.  The U.S. Constitution and its amendments are treated like Holy Writ.  The founding fathers are revered as profits of democracy.  There is even a WWJD, What Would Jefferson Do, attitude.  What is never questioned is whether or not we should change the constitution.  What makes this strange is the fact that the right to own guns was not a part of the original constitution, but in fact one of the first ten amendments, a bill of rights,  to “fix” perceived errors or omissions in the original constitution. It is a fact of record that our Supreme Court has over its existence had different opinions regarding the interpretations of various articles and amendments to the constitution.  Were I a historian of constitutional law, I would have the ability to enumerate the many interpretations given to the constitution and its amendments.  There may be arguments, and some are ongoing arguments, about the meaning of constitutional elements but I want to address some of the more obvious “errors” in the constitution and its amendments.  If you object to the idea that these are “errors”, then you would have to allow that some decisions made in the light of circumstances in the early years of our nation experienced changes in the later years.

In the twelfth amendment to the constitution, it was determined that the framers constructed the election of the president and vice president incorrectly.  The twelfth amendment declared that Article 2, section 1, clause 3 were no longer valid.  They were replaced by a new way of electing the president and vice president in 1803.

Jefferson was known to have slaves.  Yet, in 1865, as an outcome of the Civil War, this was determined to be illegal by the adoption of the 13th amendment.  Here is yet another case where it was determined that the times had changed and a new way of relating was in order.

The 14th amendment declared former slaves, born in the United States were citizens of the United States.  Again, in 1865, the Supreme Court was overruled by the 14th amendment.  Even the Supreme Court can get it wrong and the people rise to change the constitution.  Today, there is another civil action in the works to clarify the 14th amendment because again, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people on the basis of this amendment.  Many citizens disagree and there is a movement to fix that Supreme Court interpretation.  The constitution is clearly a living document.

When the states were interpreting existing laws to allow them to discriminate at the voting booth, once again, in 1850, our understanding of the constitution had to be altered by an amendment.  Amendment 15 guaranteed citizens of the United States could not have their right to vote abridged.  That women were not considered to be citizens was not addressed, something that today we would consider outrageous.

In 1913 the 16th amendment invented a new power to the federal government, the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes of the citizens of the nation.  Passed by the states, this amendment expanded the sources of revenue, a provision not created by our founding fathers.

The election of senators as proscribed in Article 1 of the constitution was considered obsolete and was changed by amendment 17  also passed in 1913.  Times changed, opinions changed, our national agreement about how to go about electing Senators was changed.

One of the more interesting changes to our constitution occurred in the 18th amendment creating a prohibition against all enterprises supporting the use of alcohol.  This occurred in 1919.  It made no changes to prior laws.  It simply attempted to institute a new code of social conduct within the United States. In 1920, women got the right to vote through the inclusion of the 18th amendment.

Since the 15th amendment passed in 1850 former male slaves gained the right to vote.  We changed our minds in 1850.  Now we changed our minds about the right of women to vote.  Neither of these “rights” were considered by our founding fathers to be reasonable things to add to the Bill of Rights amendments to the constitution.  Times changed, our attitudes changed, our laws also changed.

The 20th amendment recognized a weakness in the constitution.  The amendment determined the appropriate time for the President and Vice President to take office.  It dealt with the issue of succession giving Congress authority to make laws.  It was passed in 1933.

The 21st amendment noted that the nation had made an error in passing the 18th amendment.  The 21st amendment was repealed!  Taken off the books, so to speak.  Revoked.  It demonstrated that any part of the constitution could be absolutely changed.

Skipping over several other modifications to our agreed upon laws of civil society through amendments 22, 23, 24, and 25, I note that in amendment 26, passed in 1971 which prohibited states from setting the age for voting to more than 18 years of age.  This was a new understanding that grew out of the Vietnam war activism of citizens that were called to serve in the military but had no voice in their government.

So here is the point.  The Constitution of the United States is not Holy Writ.  It changes in response to changes in opinion.  Sometimes the changes are swift.  Sometimes they are slow.  Sometimes their are significant difference in opinion.  Sometimes the old guard holds on tightly to their power and change is slow and hard work.  But things can change when sufficiently motivated people demand the changes needed to bring civil society into alignment with the significant portions of the citizens.

So, how close are we to repealing the 2nd amendment?  It begins with the idea that we should not be fighting the religious zealots who want to simply interpret the 2nd amendment as an absolute right to own any kind of gun they want.  It begins when we let go of 18th century fear of invasion from the powerful British.   I think now is the time to change the conversation from “THE PERCEIVED RIGHT TO OWN A GUN” to what is the most beneficial, what is the greater good for our society and REPEAL THE 2ND AMENDMENT.  If we begin the movement to repeal the 2nd amendment, the discourse will have to change.  No longer can supporters of the powers assumed under the amendment be defended on the basis of it being in the constitution because that is the discussion itself.  The discussion and arguments will have to be about the merits of having the right at all.  What is the moral and civil society argument in favor of no control over lethal weapons capable of mass killing of each other? Lets get started.  Sounds like an interesting debate when religion and Holy Writ are taken out of the formula.

 

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