Chuck Boutcher | Braindrizzle
A lesson in civics
During my years in high school, my favorite class, by far, was one titled American Civics and Civilization, taught by an unusual pair of teachers, Mr. Martin and Mr. Devine. In that class we covered the subjects of U.S. history and English. What made Mr. Martin and Mr. Devine so inspiring was the passion they brought to two subjects which, until that point in my education, I thought to be dry and boring. This column is my way of saying thanks to these two exceptional teachers and to remind myself of some of the things I learned in that class and have come to appreciate since that time.
The Bill of Rights comprises the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The first 10 amendments are collectively called the Bill of Rights because they delineate certain individual and state rights that cannot be alienated by the government. Their provisions include the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the federal government for redress of grievances. Amongst these enumerated rights, there are declared limits on the powers of the federal government.
Since the Bill of Rights was first proposed in 1789, it has been interpreted in many ways through the Supreme Court, one-third of the U.S. federal government. There have been debates through the years that have shaped and reshaped our understanding of the Bill of Rights. Many such debates were related to the encroachment of personal liberties by both the federal and state governments, with perhaps the foremost being religious liberty.
You may ask why debating the protections of the Bill of Rights is important today. Aren’t such discussions ancient history? Let’s review what is currently happening to all of us during this pandemic. We have shut down our entire economy based upon predictions of virus impact which have proven to be wildly wrong, in some cases over 400%. We have “temporarily” lost our rights to freely assemble and freely move throughout the land, to practice our faith as we see fit, to work as we choose and be fairly compensated for our labor. The Supreme Court, on whom we rely to protect our liberties, has suspended the court. Our legislatures are making sweeping changes in law by a limited voice vote because legislators are afraid to travel and gather. Governors are issuing orders that significantly limit our freedoms and punish those who do not comply.
Certain work has been defined as essential while other work is deemed nonessential. In Wisconsin, motorcycle parts and services are deemed essential, while churches are defined as nonessential. Who made that decision? What could be more essential at this point than houses of worship?
The rights afforded us through the Constitution have never been viewed as absolute, but there must be a compelling argument and clearly identifiable delegation of and limits to authority which is invoked in limiting these rights. Our constitutional rights are not suspended because of crisis. They may be even more important to us now.
In an earlier column, I had said that we needed to make sure that we could still recognize the world in which we live as “The land of the free and home of the brave …” I awake each morning and think that the past month has been but a dream, more like a nightmare. We must find a way to open society once again. We must be able to assemble with friends and family. We must be able to gather in prayer with our congregations in worship. We must be able to get back to work.
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