If you have ever traveled abroad, you know the incomparable feeling of gratitude when you return to the United States of America. You know that despite any long lines at customs, lost luggage, or, perhaps, even a curmudgeonly customs official (that beautiful bureaucrat that you could hug) having a rather bad day, there is no greater joy or sheer exhilaration than stepping past those custom booths. I have seen weary patriots returning and spontaneously humming, "O say can you see ..." or "And I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free ..."
And with that patriotism come something else: a feeling of safety; not just physical safety, but that deep sense of security, that God-given right to be free from tyranny, or some dictatorial power that shackles your spirit, and limits your self-determination. Why? Because you know that the Constitution of the United States of America is the blood-bought set of principles, sacred and inviolable, covenant-like, that both recognizes and defends the yearning for "the pursuit of happiness." Is it any wonder that when others come to this land and see the verdant fields, the bustling cities, and the entrepreneurial spirit of millions who transform the blessings of Constitutional liberty into personal, familial, and community prosperity, that these people intuitively whisper a prayer, and, perhaps, unknowingly, quote the Gipper: "Thank God. There is still one last best hope.'"
When someone is sworn into the military, as I was, first as an enlisted service member and then as an officer, one commits to the rule of law. Enlistment oaths include a phrase to obey the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." Conversely, military and naval officers pledge fidelity to the Constitution." It is a distinction enshrined by our Founding Fathers that guarantees the separation of powers throughout our constitutional republic so that the ultimate authority of governance is the U.S. Constitution. The most famous expression of this principle of duty and allegiance is the Oath of Office of the United States president. Every President has repeated the oath (or affirmation) of the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, since 1789.
Likewise, all elected and most appointed public servants take a vow that expresses fidelity to the United States Constitution (as do naturalized citizens). He or she does not take a vow to uphold or defend a piece of ground or a governing office but, instead, swears allegiance to an idea, a set of affirmations to the essential and irrevocable truths that we hold to be absolute. This Constitution provides our identity and unity as a People (not ethnicity, familial country of origin, or political party). Americans cherish what most of the world craves: civil protection that allows the individual to flourish under a government that can only exist by the consent of the governed.
When the President of the United States declared on Thursday, 8 April 2021 that, "No amendment to the Constitution is absolute," his remarks, without explanation, sent a chilling message to many Americans. The President made the remarks in the context of addressing gun violence in the United States. However, even Mr. Biden's most ardent supporters could say without impunity that his statement was "tone-deaf." Any talk from the Executive branch of government about Constitutional changes becomes ominous and not unreasonably threatening in days like these. The representative government has been reduced to something less by the unprecedented number and types of COVID-19-prompted executive orders, dictates, and emergency powers.
There is, of course, a Constitutional process for nullifying amendments (e.g., the 21st repealed the 18th, Prohibition). The Constitution governs amendments. There must be ballot-box consent of three-fourths (not a simple majority) of the States agreeing to the act. Our nation has undergone a dramatic, and some would say, casual disregard of those sacred principles of self-governance. Rather than laws being enacted by one branch and checked by the other two, the authority has been centralized in individuals. We have witnessed governors and even unelected health officials issue edicts like absolute monarchists. Principles of self-determination were jettisoned—well, faster than the spread of a coronavirus. The pandemic yielded its most effective and efficient emergency power in the White House. We thank God for our elected leaders who step up to protect us during national emergencies. However, our appeals to heaven on their behalf change whenever the extraordinary threatens to become the norm.
FA Hayek (1899-1992), the Austrian-born economist who fled his nation before the advance and occupation of the brutal German National Socialism, adopted Britain as his home. Dr. Hayek taught at the London School of Economics (he also taught in the U.S.). Hayek warned then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill that while the government needed to assume otherwise dangerous centralized powers because of the crisis of WWII, it would be equally essential to return power to the People and that quickly. Hayek argued in The Road to Serfdom that governments returning governance to the governed is, historically, virtually impossible. To wit, he wrote, "'Emergencies' have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded."
The war ended; the emergency was over. So, Churchill was defeated. A nation traded personal liberty for the pledged security of a continuance of central rule. Under the guise of emergency economic needs in post-war Britain, the British Labour Party begin a long reign that transformed Britain into a veritable democratic socialist state. Not until the administration of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did the "Great" get put back into "Britain." The results of such a long, oppressive period of centralized ruling power wreaked havoc upon what was undoubtedly the most benevolent empire in the history of the world.
The U.S.A. is, in a sense, the successor to the benevolent Pax Britannica that gave an oppressed world a sense of hope for self-government. Indeed, lessons learned from the authoritarian mistakes of 17th and 18th century English and Continental powers helped to codify the faith of the pilgrims, the genius of Samuel Rutherford, Edmund Burke, and the biblical theology of so many of our founding fathers.
It is past time for Americans to voice concern over the centralization of power because of COVID-19. The one who writes this is no libertarian. However, I share the views of many who are past concerned about the erosion of constitutional rights. The United States Constitution codifies the theological truth that human rights are based on the Imago Dei—the image of God in humanity (thus, the influence of John Locke, Samuel Rutherford, and Edmund Burke).
From John the Baptist decrying the immorality of the Herodian household and John Wesley calling for child labor reforms to Martin Luther King Jr. reminding us that the divine mandates of the Constitution include all citizens, clergy have been at the forefront of calling out policies that hurt the image of God in humanity. We, too, must "cry aloud and spare not" (Isaiah 58:1) against an uncontrolled seizure of individual self-determination.
Prince Harry may find the First Amendment "bonkers." The President believes that nothing in the Bill of Rights is absolute, but let us be clear: The freedom (from the government) to practice our religion gives meaning to the other freedoms that flow from it. These are not up for discussion. These rights of human beings are sacrosanct. In a word, they are absolute.
Without such unconditional allegiance to the founding documents of this shining city on a hill, it will not only make returning to this country less exhilarating but take away the hope of a world. For the oppressed of the earth will then say, "If not America, where can we go?"
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines. Used with permission.
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