Have you read the U.S. Constitution? Some people think it is too difficult to understand, but in truth it is a remarkably simple document with only five articles. If you compare this with the constitution of the People’s Republic of China and its 138 articles, or the United Nations Charter with its 111 articles, you can see how really simple the U.S. Constitution is. But notwithstanding its simple nature, there have been some discussions and disputations over what the Constitution means. In these cases, perhaps the best method to resolve these disputes is to figure out just what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote it. The other option is to interpret the Constitution to mean whatever we want it to mean, and there is a loud and vocal crowd of people on the liberal left who prefer to do exactly that. But there is a danger in freely interpreting the Constitution. The Chinese constitution states that the citizens of China have the freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of demonstration. But these rights are interpreted only as the Chinese government sees fit, as the student demonstrators of Tiananmen Square can attest. Or could, if they had not been crushed under the treads of Chinese tanks.
Words mean something. This may seem like a glaringly obvious statement, but it is surprising how many people do not believe it. If I enter into a contract with you to deliver 100 widgets each week, and your side of the contract says you will pay me $10,000 for the 100 widgets each week, each of us knows precisely what our duties are. I may not deliver only 80 widgets and expect the full payment, nor may I redefine “widget” to mean a gizmo instead. If I attempt either, I have broken our contract. Pretty clear, right? So is the Constitution, but there are people today who are trying to redefine a very important contract–our Constitution–in this way by redefining its words and the meanings behind them.
Let’s look at two of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights that have been under attack by those who would like to redefine the Constitution. The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is perhaps the most misunderstood sentence in the entire Constitution. Some nay-sayers have interpreted it to mean not that individuals should have the right to own weapons, but that the individual states only have the right to arm National Guard units. But why would a states’ rights issue be stuck in the middle of eight Amendments all written to define personal rights, and couched in the same language as the others? The simplest answer is that this Amendment defines a personal right, not a states’ right. But what about that “militia” term that has caused so much trouble? Section 311 of the United States Code defines the militia as all males between the ages of 17 and 45 who are US citizens, and all women who are commissioned officers of the National Guard. Our laws are written with the understanding that all citizens are part of an unorganized militia, with the National Guard considered an organized militia. So again, this isn’t a state issue; it is an individual issue.
But what was the original intent of the Founding Fathers? Here are some of their own words. Samuel Adams said, “And that the said constitution be never construed to authorize congress… to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms…” And George Mason showed that he understood who made up the militia when he stated, “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.” Finally, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” (my emphasis) Jefferson knew of what he wrote, since the availability of arms among the early colonists made it possible to overthrow British tyranny.
The U.S. Congressional Subcommittee Report on the Constitution in 1982 says, “The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept, and wording of the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major commentator and court in the first half-century after its ratification, indicates that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner.” But what one government body explains as “inescapable” does not prevent a later group from interpreting it differently. During the Clinton administration, Justice Department officials held that the Second Amendment was a collective state right, not a personal one, as stated outright by then-Solicitor General Seth Waxman. Founding Fathers and simple language be damned, the Clinton administration and liberal leftists across the US have decided to interpret the Constitution to mean what they want it to mean.
The part of the First Amendment that has recently come under attack says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The liberal left interprets this to mean nothing religious–and particularly nothing Christian–may be displayed anywhere in any government body or building. For about 150 years we were able to have Nativity scenes on public land, but the ACLU and other Offended-Americans now see this as a horrible affront to their civil liberties. I previously commented about this in the recent brouhaha over the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama. People often do not realize that the Founding Fathers intended to keep the federal government completely neutral on the matter of religion, but that did not stop the states or people from doing what they wanted with religion, including public displays. The phrase “Congress shall make no law…” shows that Congress must remain completely silent about religion. But how does this stop a judge in Alabama from placing a monument of the Ten Commandments in a state building? Only if you have an expanded definition of the word “Congress” does this current view make any sense.
There are two ways to respond to our Constitution: accept it as the law of the land and live by it, or try to circumvent the Constitution by actively disregarding it or changing its meaning into something else. So into which camp do you think the liberal left falls?