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P R E S I D E N T ' S   P A G E

Freedom and Self-government—
A Lost Vision

Writing Michael New's brief for the United States Court of Appeals required me to do a lot of reading and thinking about the meaning of American citizenship. Our nation can require citizens to perform military service only because our nation has reciprocal obligations—the obligation to protect our lives, our freedom, and our property.

Michael New's case presents the ultimate question of whether we are citizens or subjects. Subjects can be ordered to perform military service as mercenaries for other nations. Citizens cannot.

But my research required me to think about the foundations for American citizenship.

Our nation is truly unique. Most countries are held together by a sense of ethnic nationality or religion in a denominational sense. The United States is nearly the only nation which is held together by a group of shared ideas.

The founders of the United States came to this country with a variety of purposes, but over the first hundred and fifty years of the colonial period, these purposes jelled into a common vision and shared values. Simply put, America was founded on a vision for freedom and self-government by a people committed to the moral principles of God.

The essence of this vision was crystallized in the Constitution of the United States. Americans profess great faith in the Constitution. It is the one thing that still appears to bind our nation together.

However, the sad reality is that most Americans have little knowledge of the Constitution. When I was in college, a survey was done asking people to sign a petition that was to be sent to Washington. The content of the survey was the Bill of Rights word-for-word, but without any numbering. More than half of the people surveyed refused to sign the Bill of Rights. Lack of knowledge of the Constitution is more troubling than ignorance of other subject matter. This form of ignorance tears at our ability to understand the ideas that make us Americans.

Ignorance is not the only enemy of these bedrock ideas. The court system, especially the Supreme Court, has declared war on the principle of original intent of the Constitution. The majority embrace a philosophy of "the living Constitution" which allows them to interpret the Document to mean anything they want it to mean. Liberals have abandoned original intent and undermined our shared principles of morality in Roe v. Wade. Liberals on the Court are also responsible for undermining the principle of self-government when they ruled that the people of Colorado did not have the right to protect themselves from laws granting a preferred legal status to homosexuals. And conservatives on the Court have demonstrated their own propensity to undermine freedom when they abandoned original intent and cast our right of the free exercise of religion onto the trash heap of history in Employment Division v. Smith.

Abandoning original intent is not merely a bad legal philosophy. When we abandon the original intent of the Constitution, we are abandoning the agreement made by "we the people" to live together with shared values. When nine people in black robes appointed for life get to change our national covenant by a 5-to-4 vote, we have neither freedom nor self-government. Judicial activism, in both its conservative and liberal formulations, is tearing at the heart of the shared agreements that make us Americans.

The antidote to a liberal judiciary is the same as the antidote needed to combat citizen ignorance. We need to understand the Constitution of the United States and the principles of freedom and self-government it represents and then hold our leaders to this Document and these principles.

Teach the Constitution to your children. That may require you to first learn it for yourself.

Mike Farris