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A View from the Altar / Washington Visigoths hacking down the Constitution
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Washington Visigoths hacking down the Constitution

The consent of the governed

The Framers of our Constitution traced the power of governors to the consent of the governed.  Being a Christian, I would have expressed that in slightly different terms.  The power to govern comes from God (Rom 13:1) and is inherently limited by divinely established, hence immutable, laws of justice.  Those subject to the government have a duty, also inherent, to monitor the actions of rulers and object when his immutable laws are violated.  So long as rulers generally act within the bounds of God’s laws, the governed are obliged to submit.

If rulers violate the law, citizens have a right and a duty to point out the error.  If grievances go unredressed, this begins to chip away at the citizens’ obligation to submit.  The Framers believed that a “long train of abuses” could eventually undercut entirely a government’s legitimacy.  If rulers habitually operate outside the bounds God established when he gave to them the authority to rule, then they forfeit their legitimate authority.  At some point, they become mere usurpers whereupon the citizens are duty bound to shift their allegiance to rulers who will obey the Lord.

The Declaration of Independence sets forth a mildly secularized version of this logic when it says the power to govern derives from the consent of the governed.  And instead of shifting allegiance to rulers who will obey the Lord, it says the citizens must “provide new guards for their future security.”

In a limited political sense, the end result is the same; that is, the government must operate within lawful bounds, else it ceases to be a legitimate government and must be replaced, even if it takes armed revolution to do it.

What the government may not do

Fast forward to the present.  Much damage has come from the Patriot Act which was signed into law by President Bush.  It was a decidedly sorry piece of legislation to start with.  Its warrantless wiretaps and other provisions trounce the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights which says,

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

It’s crucial to read the words for what they actually say.  This is a statement of what the government may not do.  Furthermore, the exceptions to one’s personal privacy and security are spelled out in detail and include the protections we’ve come to expect: reasonableness of government action, probable cause, warrants supported by sworn statements, limits on what can be searched, and so on.  The Patriot Act authorized searches that are vast, electronic trawling expeditions.  Such searches are manifestly forbidden by the Constitution.

In like manner, the Constitution says the government can’t just nab people off the streets and hold them indefinitely.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

These protections are all limitations on government authority.  There are certain things the government may not do.  The Constitution was framed in part for the very purpose of limiting the power of the government over individual citizens.

Constitutional vivisection

By dint of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Obama administration now claims the right to imprison without accusation or trial Americans who are deemed a threat to national security.  Put this together with the Patriot Act and the nightmare comes into terrifying focus.  Something gets detected, say, from a phone text message intercepted by the National Security Agency, and the sender could be in real danger of vanishing without a trace.

Thus, the protective judicial wall between citizens and capricious enforcement action has been breached.  The president now claims the power to order individual Americans, perhaps identified by secret surveillance, arrested without warrant (and therefore without cause) and swept off the streets.

No American should tolerate the outrageous claim that such an authority is legitimate, just, or even necessary.  The actions proposed under this newest legislation are specifically named and banned by the Constitution. Freedom means nothing so long as the government asserts the power to impose Argentine-style disappearances on its domestic opponents.

Forgetting our history… now about to repeat it

The NDAA section 1021 is an open, flagrant violation of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.  The British government’s essentially kidnapping American colonists is one of the things that instigated the revolution of 1776.  Now we’re retrograde by 236 years, with the occupant of the White House claiming the power to “disappear” any person he deems to be a threat.  Think of it: No trial, witnesses, no lawyer, no cross examination, no facing your accusers, no habeas corpus, no bail, no nothing.  Just you, gone, and nobody around to ask questions or know what happened or where you went or why, and the government answerable to nobody for it.

In the thirteenth century,  England’s King John committed crimes such as these against his people.  He was so tyrannical that his nobles rose up against him and — with paramilitary force — compelled him to sign the Magna Carta guaranteeing the judicial rights we now take too much for granted.

“Article 38. No bailiff for the future shall, upon his own unsupported complaint, put anyone to his ‘law’, without credible witnesses brought for this purposes.  Article 39. No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Now these ancient and vital protections, won by blood against tyrannical usurpations for 800 years, are under direct, frontal assault by the Congress and this president.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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