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“Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”
Believe it or not, that quote is from the constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Article 124. That’s right, under communism the Russians and their colonies had a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. We all know how effective that guarantee was. The communists wrote freedom of religion into their constitution, then ignored it.
The fact is that constitutional protections depend on more than the words on paper. There are always people willing to stretch or even ignore the words. They may have good intentions or they may just want to amass power to themselves. Either way, it is only by constant vigilance that we can maintain our freedoms. For a U.S. example we need look no farther than the ninth and tenth amendments, both of which have been ignored for decades:
Article 9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Article 10. 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.
We have seen the federal government continually take powers not delegated to the United States, powers that should be reserved to the states or the people. For example my state allows medical marijuana and assisted suicide (both of which I oppose). The constitution clearly does not delegate regulation of drugs and suicide to the federal government, yet that federal government has stepped in to try to overturn the state law. Years ago the federal government issued quotas regulating who could grow wheat and how much. They even prosecuted a farmer who grew wheat that never left his own farm but was used to feed his animals. Such actions were in clear violation of the ninth and tenth amendments, yet the government got away with it.
The federal government has also imposed de facto quotas on employment, requiring equal outcome instead of equal opportunity under the guise of outlawing disparate impact (also known as adverse impact). As a result, the 14th amendment is often ignored if authorities prefer to give preference to certain groups.
Those constitutional abuses continue because the citizens fail to defend the document. Reportedly Benjamin Franklin was once asked what kind of government we had been given. His answer was, “a republic – if you keep it.” Keeping it requires constant and informed vigilance. I believe that this means that citizens must:
1. Know what the constitution actually says and means. In general this is not that difficult, it is not a lawyers’ document. Normal people can understand the words and meaning.
2. Understand the reasons behind the various provisions. For example, the founders did not intend to give us a pure democracy. Instead they intended to provide a limited government, restricted from doing certain things no matter how many people want them. They also intended to provide a balance between heavily populated states and states with smaller populations, and between the different branches of government.
3. Be willing to sacrifice their own short-term interests for the benefit of long-term freedoms and the benefits that come from living under a constitutionally restricted government.
4. Vote wisely. Too often people are urged to vote as though just voting would help the country. Instead they should be urged to inform themselves and evaluate the issues and candidates carefully. We do not need more ignorant or apathetic voters, we need voters who care enough to learn and think about how they are voting. We need to support candidates who are wise, ethical, and committed to constitutional government.
5. Participate in government by writing representatives and by other means. Congress, the president, governors etc. are our employees and like any boss we should keep up with what they are doing and let them know how we think they should do their duty as our employees.
The constitution is a wonderful document. However it will remain just words unless we the people actively defend it.