10 July 2014

In the Beginning

"In the extraordinarly extended and inclusive ratification process envisioned by the Preamble, Americans regularly found themselves discussing the Preamble itself. At Philidelphia, the earliest draft of the Preamble had come from the quill of Pennsylvania's James Wilson, and it was Wilson who took the lead in explaining the Preamble's principles in a series of early and influential ratification speeches. Pennsylvania Anti-Federalists complained that the Philadelphia notables had overreached in proposing an entirely new Constitution rather than a mere modification of the existing Articles of Confederation. In response, Wilson - America's leading lawyer and one of only six men to have signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution - stressed the significance of popular ratification. "This Constitution, proposed by [the Philadelphia draftsmen], claims no more than a production of the same nature would claim, flowing from a private pen. It is laid before the citizens of the United States, unfettered by restraint ... By their fiat, it will become of value and authority; without it, it will never receive the character of authenticity and power." ...

"With the word fiat, Wilson gently called to mind the opening lines of Genesis. In the beginning, God said, fiat lux, and -behold!- there was light. So, too, when the American people (Publius's "supreme authority") said, "We do ordain and establish," that very statement would do the deed. "Let there be a Constitution" --and there would be one. As the ultimate sovereign of all had once made man in his own image, so now the temporal sovereign of America, the people themselves, would make a constitution in their own image."

-America's Constitution, by Akhil Reed Amar, page 8-9

07 July 2014

Are We Wise Beneficiaries?

For me, the answer to this question for a very long time was definitely NO. I knew very little about the Constitution. I had no idea if a proposed bill was Constitutionally sound or well in excess of the delegated authority. It really never even occurred to me to ask such questions. And I didn't know how to start learning about it, once I did realize that I needed to. If you find yourself in that position, here are a few places to get started.

1. Read the Constitution, itself. It's a short document. Pay particular attention to Article I Section 8 - that's the list of things that Congress is allowed to make laws about. When you consider supporting a bill, ask yourself: which of these itemized powers does this bill fall under? If you can't figure it out, then the measure probably doesn't belong at the federal level.

2. Read Brother Benson's essay, The Proper Role of Government. As near as I can tell, when he wrote this essay, he was acting as Brother Ezra Benson, private citizen, and not as an apostle. However, he quotes somewhere around 1/3 of the essay in his talk The Constitution -- A Heavenly Banner, which was given just following his call as Prophet of the Church. If you listen to the mp3 version, you will discover that this address, though it was given at BYU, was specifically and explicitly addressed to the entire membership of the Church. While the Role of Government essay is not doctrine, the fact that the prophet, acting in his calling, chose to quote so extensively from it makes me sit up and pay attention to the rest of it.

Those are both relatively short projects to get started with. After that, I recommend reading The 5000 Year Leap, by Cleon Skousen. That will introduce you to the ideas that underlie the Constitution. Skousen did a great job of making some really big ideas very accessible.

04 July 2014

Strict Constitutional Observance

There are two important ideas in this quote.

First, that the Constitution is inspired. This isn't just the opinion of Brother Taylor. It's cannonized scripture, though it's not an often quote couple of verses. When I first began to study liberty, I was quite surprised to find that the Constitution has place in the scriptures, even though I'd been a member all my life, attended Sunday School, completed Seminary, and gone on to Institute, where I had learned a ton from a great teacher. But look:

And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.
-Doctrine and Covenants 101:80

The Constitution comes to us from the Lord. It is one of His tender mercies, designed to safeguard our agency. The battle for our agency may have began in the pre-earth life, but it rages still today.

The second important idea is that only strict observance of Constitutional law can keep our nation safe. Before we can strictly observe the law, we must know the Constitution. What it actually says. The reasons why the Founders wrote what they wrote in it. We need to educate ourselves, because most of us didn't learn it in school, and we need to educate our children, because they certainly aren't going to learn much, if anything, about Constitutional limits and principles from schools run by a government that observes no limits to its power. If we want to know, we'll have to search out the information for ourselves. We must want freedom enough to inconvenience ourselves in order to learn how to be free.

27 June 2014

A Right To His Own

This one is important, and perhaps the best explanation of this idea's practical implications is this clip from YouTube.

The philosopher Bastiat said it this way:

"Each of us has a natural right – from God – to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but and extension of our faculties?" (The Law, p.6)

I love the litmus test that Ezra Taft Benson recommended in his essay, The Proper Role of Government:

An important test I use in passing judgment upon an act of government is this: If it were up to me as an individual to punish my neighbor for violating a given law, would it offend my conscience to do so? Since my conscience will never permit me to physically punish my fellow man unless he has done something evil, or unless he has failed to do something which I have a moral right to require of him to do, I will never knowingly authorize my agent, the government to do this on my behalf.

I realize that when I give my consent to the adoption of a law, I specifically instruct the police – the government – to take either the life, liberty, or property of anyone who disobeys that law. Furthermore, I tell them that if anyone resists the enforcement of the law, they are to use any means necessary – yes, even putting the lawbreaker to death or putting him in jail – to overcome such resistance. These are extreme measures but unless laws are enforced, anarchy results.

24 June 2014

Self-Evident Truth

"The Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that some truths are self-evident, and one of those is the fact that all men are created equal.

"Yet everyone knows that no two human  beings are equally alike in any respect. They are different when they are born. They plainly exhibit different natural skills. They acquire different  tastes. They develop along different lines.  They vary in physical strength, mental capacity, emotional stability, inherited social status, in their opportunities for self-fulfillment, and in scores of other ways. They how can they be equal?

"The answer is, they can't, except in three ways. They can only be treated as equals in the sight of God, in the sight of the law, and in the protection of their rights. In these three ways, all men are created equal. It is the task of society, as it is with God, to accept people in all their vast array of individual differences, but treat them as equals when it comes to their role as human beings. As members of society, all persons should have their equality guaranteed in two areas. Constitutional writer Clarence Carson describes them:

"First, there is equality before the law. This means that every man's case is tried by the same law governing any particular case. Practically, it means that there are no different laws for different classes and orders of men [as there were in ancient times]. The definition of premeditated murder is the same for the millionaire as for the tramp. A corollary of this is that no classes are created or recognized by law.

"Second, the Declaration refers to an equality of rights... Each man is equally entitled to his life with every other man; each man has an equal title to God-given liberties along with every other."

"John Adams was in France when Jean Jacques Rousseau was teaching that all men were designed to be equal in every way. Adams wrote:

"That all men are born to equal rights is true. Every being has a right to his own, as clear, as moral, as sacred, as any other being has... But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is a gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credulity of the people, as ever was practiced by monks, by Druids, by Brahmins, by priests of the immortal Lama, or by the self-styled philosophers of the French Revolution."

-Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap, page 79-80

21 June 2014

A Summer of Freedom!

Welcome to the Summer of Freedom! My goal is to post something about freedom every couple of days all summer long, and I'm excited! To start with, I wanted to share this quote from Elder Benson. It's a big statement, but one that the Doctrine and Covenants bears out:

According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.
-Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80 (emphasis added)

It makes sense to me that when we are evaluating the Constitutionality of measures proposed one of the things we should bear in mind is the way that the measure would affect the agency of the people. If it is not in harmony with the purposes for which the Lord set up the Constitution to serve, then it probably is not a good measure and should be opposed as something that is not in harmony with the principles of the document.
I look forward to looking more closely at the principles that underlie the Constitution over the next few weeks!

19 June 2014

Teaching Apologies

I think one of the more difficult things that I have need to teach is teaching how to deal with conflict. It's not an easy thing, even for adults. Figuring out how to help my children to correct their own behavior (and why they should go to the effort), and how they ought to deal with the behavior of a sibling that's doing wrong, these are not simple things to deal with. Still, the mandate is clear:

It's got to happen. But it's not easy.

I'm pretty much always in the market for good ideas about how to make things go better. Not too long ago, I found one. Cuppacocoa has a fabulous post about how to apologize. It's well worth the time to read the whole thing, but here's the heart of her method:

I’m sorry for…
This is wrong because…

In the future, I will…
Will you forgive me?

I read it, lost it, and found it again, and in between times tried what I could remember, which was only the first two steps, and it is already making a difference in our home. Owning your mistakes is such a huge part of fixing them, and already, just that much is making a noticeable difference in the quality of apologies. But, as much as I like her formula for a good apology, I think that some of her insights into why apologizing is important and the benefits it brings to the offender are quite possibly even better. She plays out a common insincere apology scenario, and then she steps back and looks at it a bit:

You know inside, however, that the offended still feels bitter, because the apology was not sincere. And while it may seem like the offender got off easy– not even having to show proper remorse or use a sincere tone–he is actually the one who loses out the most. He not only learns a poor lesson that he can get away with lies and empty words, but does not have the opportunity to experience true reconciliation and restoration of relationships. He will probably continue inflicting similar offenses, feel less remorse than he should, and undergo less positive character change than he could have.

That's an unfortunate circumstance for the offended, but it's a serious problem for the one apologizing! So much of parenting hinges on finding ways to reach the hearts of our children, and fakey-fake apologies are a complete failure. Empty form, with no truth behind it -- just exactly what we need to avoid in all areas if we are to be successful in leading our children to Christ!

It's not the saying sorry that makes the difference - that's just the outward sign of an inward change (or mumbled compliance to get Mom off your back). It's this idea of Godly Sorrow that really makes the difference. For change to happen, you need more than just feeling sorry for yourself because you got caught and now you're in trouble. Real change, the stuff that builds character traits like courage and virtue, the real stuff grows out of sorrow for actually having done the deed. This kind of feeling can't be imposed from the outside - "Say sorry, and mean it!!" It's just not going to get the job done. It comes from understanding what the wrong did to the other person, and wishing you could undo it. And that wish leads to the determination to avoid doing the same thing in the future. And THAT is what we're aiming for when we teach our children. The process of saying, "This is wrong because _____," helps this process along more than a little!

I was pretty sure that I was forgetting something important, and I was. That third step. Planning for success next time. That's so important, to help kids know what they should do, the next time a similar situation comes up. We'll be adding that to our practice here in the next little while. And I really like the way that the blog post focuses on stating things positively:

Wrong: In the future, I won’t push.
(Right: In the future, I will keep my hands to myself.)
Wrong: In the future, I won’t take your eraser.
(Right: In the future, I will ask you if I can borrow your eraser.)

I love when I can help my kids plan and practice for success. I love the message that it sends to them that they are good kids. This was just a little hiccup, and next time it'll go better. That's an important message. YOU ARE A GOOD KID. So much tells kids just the opposite. We watch heroes on TV, and read books about Superman, Batman, and the rest, and we spend a good bit of time talking about the differences between Heroes and Bad Guys. One of those differences is that Heroes make mistakes, but they fix them. Fixing things is hard, and this sort of apology seems to offer a chance for the kids to practice and plan for being one of the Good Guys by fixing things this time, and planning how to do better next time.

I like that.


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