Constitutional Issues

Governments cannot give you rights – you already have them. They can only promise to preserve them or they can restrict them.

The “Bill of Rights” was not part of the original U.S. Constitution. The 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights were added only after the Constitution was initially rejected by the original would-be states.

The representatives that were to sign the Constitution and thereby join their states into these new “United States” were afraid that this new proposed federal government might become too strong and tyrannical, like the one that they had just fought so hard against during the Revolutionary War.

The “States” wanted a written guarantee that the new federal government that was forming would not wind up being just like the former federal government that they had overthrown.

Each state wanted to keep their own sovereignty. This is why they became states in the first place.

Federal law does not overrule or supersede State law- at least it was not supposed to. The Bill of Rights was attempting to make that clear. The 10th Amendment states – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Bill of Rights and the Constitution did not – in any way – limit, describe or define any powers or laws of an individual state. It was in fact, a guarantee that the states would continue to have sole authority over everything that they did and that the Federal government could not interfere.

It was only in later amendments, and through various Supreme Court decisions, that almost everything in the Bill of Rights would eventually apply to the states.

For example, “Freedom of Relgion” is not in the Bill of Rights. Nor is the oft-quoted “Separation of Church and State”. The first amendment merely states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is only prohibiting the Federal Congress from making laws regarding religion, not the state governments.

Further, this clause did not mean that you could practice any religion that you wanted because again, it only states that the federal government could not rule on the issue. The states could still make whatever laws they wished, or choose to leave the decision of religion to the people in their state. The Bill of Rights protected the right of the state governments to decide on their own matters, including religion with no interference from the federal government.

Later court decisions, coupled with the notion of some that the Constitution should be a “fluid document”, changing with the needs of the day, would render the meaning of the Constitution often into exactly what it was originally designed to prevent.

If some of these points are shocking or seem to go against all that you have heard, that is okay.

Your entire knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should not be learned from a few bullet points on a website. There are too many subtleties and too much context to boil down into bite-size pieces.

You are encouraged to explore the actual texts of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as such writings as the Federalist Papers and the other writings known as the “Anti Federalist Papers”. Read essays by the founding fathers as well as their biographies. Read about U.S. history, look at Supreme Court case law, take more civics courses and generally delve deeper into the whole topic. There is a whole lot here that can be learned. It is impossible to boil down everything to an easily manageable talking point. It is a fascinating field however, and one that is so pertinent to the topics of today. Your entire political viewpoint may be shaped by the insight and understanding that you may find on this journey.

Just What Are You Doing?

Welcome to the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The season starts June 1st and goes through November 30th, although hurricanes have been known to happen at other times. Talking about storms and other natural disasters should include a look at what plans you have made in case of emergency.

This is one topic that is a good example of the way that people approach a problem.

There are those who ask,
Why do I need to make plans? It is the Government’s job to deal with it.

Yes, “the Government”, specifically the U.S. Federal Government. For some, the cause of every problem and also the only possible solution. “The Government” is seen as some abstract all-powerful, all-knowing entity that can do anything – as long as the right party is in power. It is perceived to have an endless supply of money – as long as the evil rich “pay their fair share”.

The Government is the “They” in “They should stop global warming”, “They should come up with an alternative to fossil fuels”, “They should give more money to the homeless”, etc. It has seemed to become the omnipotent force by which anything is possible and also the ONLY means by which anything is possible. People seem shocked that in this day and age, there is still disease, storms, wars. Why didn’t the Government do something? People also rely on the Government to solve even the new problems of the day. E-mail spam? Cleaner running cars? Traffic? The Government!

Why do some people think that the Government should be so much a part of our lives? There is no valid historic basis for this in the Constitution – quite the contrary in fact.

Take any issue. Global warming? Have you started car-pooling? Are you driving less? Bought a more fuel efficient car? Why don’t you come up with an alternative to oil? Not an inventor? Why not invest in companies that are looking for an answer? Are you using less electricity at home? Are you waiting for the Government to make some law requiring you to conserve or do you think that it is important enough to do on your own? Do you think that nothing can be accomplished without a law that requires everybody to conserve? If such a law is in fact needed, how effective do you think it will be? Are you hoping that the Government tax rich people more so that you can keep your current energy lifestyle?

 There’s a lot that you can do. Start a ride-share club. Encourage your friends to conserve. Have demonstrations about reducing emissions. If you want to change the way people use energy, start with yourself. Then encourage others. If you can’t get people to join together and conserve energy and reduce emissions, do you think that the Government should make people do it? It is the same people!

How about storm preparedness? Do you have homeowners insurance? Do you have a flashlight? Batteries? Do you have extra canned food around? Or do you feel that you should do nothing and just wait for the Government to take care of you and your every need? Do you think that it is the President’s job to make sure that you are safe during a storm? Where did this belief come from? Are you expecting FEMA to rescue you, house you, feed you? They do not do that. It is not their job. Nor should it be. Have you thought about volunteering for organizations such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or your local fire department? That IS their job and they could use a hand – not from the Government or some new program or law, but from you. 

The Homeless –  Some say that more money should be given to the homeless. Did you know that you can give more money to the homeless? You don’t even need the Government for that! better yet, have you volunteered to work at a homeless shelter – or even started one yourself? Or do you think that this should just be up to the Government? Have you worked in a soup kitchen or organized a food drive? Do you just prefer to do what you always do and just point fingers at what the Government – with their supposedly unlimited resources – should do?

For too long there has been a notion that the Government is responsible for everything and capable of anything. It all comes down to people though. It is tempting to sit back and complain about everything and expect George Bush to do everything. But just what are you doing?

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