Tag Archives: The Guardian

A Sacred Document of a Sacred Idea

Take a look at this document:

constitution_1_of_4_630

This is the Constitution of the United States of America. I get into tangles all the time over at Mikeb302000 about the nature of this document. Mikeb loves to point to the elements that offend the modern leftist–slavery and the Second Amendment being the predominate targets. By contrast, I see our constitution as sacred.

Understand that by sacred, I don’t mean perfect or beyond change. I have discussed here, for example, how I wish the first two amendments were written and what I see as circumstances that would justify overthrowing the constitutionally legitimate government. Certainly, the document itself has provisions for amendment, showing a recognition from the start that changes might be necessary as time went by.

That being said, there are fundamental principles of our constitution that should not be changed. It establishes a nation and defines the government that will regulate that nation, and that definition sets strict limits on what powers each branch of the government may have. It divides government into three branches to place further limits on the extent of that power. The first ten amendments enumerate rights that the Founders regarded as necessary to protect by name.

But the argument gets made that we don’t really need such protection anymore. Surely a modern, democratic society can maintain rights by the consensus of the people.

Think again. An example of the dangers of that point of view came up yesterday (20 August 2013) in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered with Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian. I’ve given a link to the full story, but I’m going to point out one significant statement that Rusbridger made:

And this may be – sound strange to American listeners, but there is no First Amendment in the U.K. and there is no bar on prior restraint, the idea that the state could prevent a news organization from publishing by taking back its source material.

Caught it, yes? Without the First Amendment, there is nothing in Britain to prevent the government from blocking publication of a story.

What story are we talking about? The one reported by Glenn Greenwald of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing about the American NSA’s invasions of privacy. The British government also detained Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under powers given by terrorism legislation. This is one of those coincidences that those of us who enjoy language note, since it was another Miranda who caused a limitation of police power in the United States.

There are people who claim that all of this security theater is keeping us safe, who see what has happened in Britain as a model for what should be done here. To them, we are nowhere near tyranny, so we should just shut up and trust the government. (I’m talking to you, Mr. President.) That kind of sheepish attitude is unbecoming for people who have overthrown a government that was not respecting their rights, fought a civil war to defend rights, and who claim to love liberty today. The only way to guarantee that we don’t fall into the kind of police state that some of us warn about is to fight against every step in that direction.

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