« Weekend Caption Contest™ Winners | Main | Sarah Palin: "Those are corrupt bastards." »

Civics 101

It might be an odd time to bring it up, but there's a lot of fighting and arguing about just what the Constitution says -- and what it means.

Let's start off with the basics: the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Period. No laws can contradict it; it is the ruler against which all laws must be measured -- and, occasionally, found wanting.

Second, the Constitution is intended for all Americans (and our guests in this nation). As such, it is written and intended to be instantly understood by everyone. In other words, we do not and should not need lawyers or other experts to tell us just what it says. It should be readily understandable by the average American, and no American should feel they need to have the Constitution explained to them.

Third, the Constitution consists of the original document and all 27 Amendments passed since. An Amendment is every much as part of the Constitution as the original document. They are treated separately for historical context and ease of reference, but they are an integral part of the entire document.

Fourth, the Constitution spells out precisely how it may be changed -- and has been, on 17 separate occasions. (The first 10 Amendments, collectively called "The Bill Of Rights," were passed along with the original document.) To refer to the Constitution as a "living document" that can "evolve" on its own outside of the Amendment process is a canard and a fraud, and most often cited by those who wish it said what it does not, and lack the energy or integrity to use the well-established Amendment process to make it so.

OK, there's my Preamble. And it's only about 5 times as long as the actual Constitution's Preamble. Obviously, I lack the Founding Fathers' gift for conciseness. Now down to a couple of particulars that have been annoying me of late.

First up, the whole wrangling about the current state of the federal debt, and spending, and all that. What could the Constitution possibly have to say about that?

Well, here's Article I, Section 7:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

That's how the federal government handles money. The House starts the process, and the Senate can modify it, like any other -- but it has to start with the House.

And since January 2007, the House has been controlled by the Democratic Party. Every spending bill (which includes how the money will be acquired to be spent, which triggers the above section) has to start there, and then move on to the Senate and finally the president.

It has evolved that, in the case of the federal budget, the president presents his plan to the House, which introduces it and modifies it as they see fit. Then they pass it on to the Senate, which makes its own changes. That means that the two Houses have to then reconcile these two plans into one they both can live with, and then pass it to the president.

Well, until recently. This year has been a bit different. President Obama didn't bother submitting a budget at all, and the House never started the budget process. We're well into the current fiscal year with no budget written down anywhere, and no one seems to actually care. That dereliction of duty alone ought to be grounds for kicking out every single Democrat in the House of Representatives.

But I digress.

Anyway, every single revenue bill passed since January 2007 has been crafted by a Democratic-dominated House of Representatives and approved by a Democratic-majority Senate. (A greater majority than the Republicans held at any point during the Bush administration, it should be noted.) Further, each since January 2009 has been signed into law by a Democratic president. Their names and fingerprints are all over them; they own them.

Secondly, there's the infamous "First Amendment" and the whole "separation of church and state" thing. Let's start off with the basics -- the actual text of the Amendment in question:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(emphasis added)

Two parts, equally important. Part one: there will be no "official" religion of the United States. The federal government is forbidden from expressing a preference for any religion of any sort.

Part two: conversely, the federal government may not offer its "disapproval" of any religion. This keeps the weasels who seem to take an inordinate interest in the halls of power from circumventing the first part by saying "we're not promoting this one faith; we're just restricting all the others."

The theory of the "separation of church and state" has no official standing in the Constitution; it's something that's developed through practice and application -- and, as such, is constantly open to interpretation and debate. The actual text is clear; Congress can't do these things. But how best to implement it?

What has developed in many ways, and which meets with my "common sense" tests, is that for most matters the State doesn't get involved in religious matters -- which includes allowing exceptions to the law in the name of people's "free exercise" of their religions. For example, the tax-exempt status of most religions.

This comes with a price, though -- the "hands-off" policy has to run both ways. Churches had to stay out of partisan politics, or they would forfeit their protected status. I don't believe this has ever been applied, but on several occasions the threat has been raised.

So, technically, there is no Constitutional "separation of church and state" -- the phrase is used as a shorthand way of discussing how to best implement the relevant portions of the First Amendment.

It's always entertaining to hear the loudest pushers of the "separation" line denounce the ignorance and stupidity of those who point out that the phrase doesn't appear anywhere in the Constitution proper. The underlying attitude seems to be "are you gonna believe us, the educated elite, or your own lying eyes?"

The Constitution is not that challenging a document. It was written for the layman of the time, and doesn't require lengthy study and education to understand the fundamentals.

In the old days, that was just known as "good citizenship."


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/40465.

Comments (18)

It really doesn't matter so... (Below threshold)
Gmac:

It really doesn't matter so much that they didn't pass a budget and used continuing resolutions to fund the processes because come January 22nd a lot of them are going to be replaced.

Perhaps then fiscal sanity will be returned to government, but I ain't holding my breath.

I was watching TV last nigh... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I was watching TV last night and was horrified to see millions of Democratic voters that were just plain angry.

What was I watching you may ask?

The walking dead on AMC.

The problem is that the Dem... (Below threshold)
Eric:

The problem is that the Democrats literally passed the buck to the Republicans. When the Republicans pass a larger budget next year as a result of the this year's lack of budget the Democrats are going to scream about how big the budget is.

Bingo, Eric.After ... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Bingo, Eric.

After the unprecedented and irresponsible fiasco of not passing a budget, it just made it harder for the next Congress.

And the MSM will be right there, highlighting every problem or misstep by the Repubs; never (or faintly) mentioning that the Dems didn't pass a budget last time.

We must not let the current wave of political change end at 2010. It has to continue to 2012 and beyond. I don't know how we'll keep Tea Party-level enthusiasm going for another 2 years, but we have to.

As to the second part of yo... (Below threshold)

As to the second part of your preamble: the Constitution is a bit like a Mission Statement, the broad principles the founders wanted the country to follow.

However, just as in business, confusion and controversy arise because the Constitution is so broad.. and reasonable people can have real and legitimate arguments about just what it means in detail.

For example, just what is 'general welfare'? Are there any limits on the 'right to bear arms' (machine guns, bazookas)? Just how hands off does government have to be to avoid mixing church and state (no prayer before a session of Congress)? Are there any restraints on the Commander in Chief (can he declare me an enemy and have me shot)?

BTW, this also explains in large part why the tax code is so thick. It's easy to say 'income' should be taxed, it's not so easy to define just what income is, lots of people can have different views, that is why we end up with 100s of pages detailing just what income is.

It is quite simple. Take th... (Below threshold)
ron:

It is quite simple. Take the broadest interpretation and you'll all get it. Try to narrow it down and you run into all kinds of trouble.
'Owning and bearing arms' has no limitations and trying to read the minds of long dead men is crazy.

Every American has the right to pracitce his religion even if he is in government in so much as it does not step on the rest of the constitution. Note: I do not say your rights.
Example. Just because your religion is of pacifism you may not injure by making some crap law that inhibitis the right to own to own and bear a cannon. No effin exceptions.

The government may not make a law. Just because a man who is on the peoples payroll does not give the people any right to tell that man he can't have a say about any facet of any religion. Nor does it give any power to any minorty religion; or any minority, the right to squelch the expression of anyones ethereal beleifs in God or lack of it either in court or by law.

It may be the etticate to say little or nothing and stick to man's concrete, but they can say pretty much what they want. Their incentive is; if we don't like what they say we can dump them in the next election.

I take the word; 'may', not to mean requred too; like it is being interpreted today. Therefore the Senate may; but does not have too, amend or concur with, the house must deal with the budget, by themselves if they have to. The president is required to present to the congress a budget request by the constitution. He needs to got off the golf course and get back to work.

Another reason that the house and the president are not doing a budget is because it also obfucates the bills due. No one has a clue how much the deficit really is. They do violate the constitution and that fact should be shoved right up there political asses; out in the open, just like Sarah calling the media corrupt bastards. They are doing this because they are corrupt bastards.

I am all for throwing about 70-80 percent of them out of office.

What has developed... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:
What has developed in many ways, and which meets with my "common sense" tests, is that for most matters the State doesn't get involved in religious matters -- which includes allowing exceptions to the law in the name of people's "free exercise" of their religions. For example, the tax-exempt status of most religions.

This comes with a price, though -- the "hands-off" policy has to run both ways. Churches had to stay out of partisan politics, or they would forfeit their protected status. I don't believe this has ever been applied, but on several occasions the threat has been raised.

You are a bit unclear here, but it sounds as if you are approvingly saying that there is a penalty if churches what to get involved in politics. This is anti-constitutional. Churches are an assembly of people, and they have the right to free speech. Any penalty for the content of that speech goes against the whole idea of the first amendment.

Anon, to me, there is: a fo... (Below threshold)

Anon, to me, there is: a forfeiture of tax-exempt status. They can register as a non-profit political organization, but if they want that far into the game, they gotta play by the same rules as everyone else.

Other protections, like the government staying the hell out of their practices and whatnot? Absolutely they keep theirs. The ONLY place I endorse a "price" for their getting into politics is in their exceptions from taxes and disclosure rules. They wanna be a political action group? Then they play by those rules.

But I set the boundary on that one way, way back. When churches start endorsing candidates, or even individual ministers do so from the pulpits, then it's time. Short of that, though... not so much.

J.

The actually text of the do... (Below threshold)
Howie:

The actually text of the document written says "the", not "an". Does this change how we perceive the document? Don't know.

Congress shall make no law respecting "THE" establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Well written JT. I like it ... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Well written JT. I like it alot.

As some know, I am a Christian. But I have to say I wish churches were not tax exempt. That is the reason so many churches (except black churches) do not preach political candidates or issues from the pulpit. They are afraid to lose the money. A poor excuse for good citizenship. ww

Secondly, there's the in... (Below threshold)
galoob:

Secondly, there's the infamous "First Amendment"

Infamous? Well, well . . .

Oddly enough, the other day... (Below threshold)

Oddly enough, the other day I just wrote a mini rant on my blog about the way the simple language the Constitution was written in has been twisted to mean anything the government wants it to mean.

I used the First Amendment as an example. Fascinating and quite disappointing how the original intent of a federal system has been subverted despite the language of the Constitution being completely clear about it.

Despite broad agreement with much of your post, I disagree completely with your assessment that the church must be silent on things related to politics. The constitution puts zero limitation on the church, only on Congress. Limiting political speech of churches is actually a clear violation of the free speech clause of the Constitution. Political speech from the pulpit was commonplace in early America.

The 'common sense' interpretation you talk about is a slippery slope. Common sense changes. This is core to the Constitutional debate between the strict interpretation and living document camps. What is common sense to many today would be grounds for revolution to many of the Founders.

Limiting political speec... (Below threshold)
galoob:

Limiting political speech of churches is actually a clear violation of the free speech clause of the Constitution.

I agree. But there is no constitutional right for churches not to have their property or income taxed.

The churches have made their bargain with Caesar: they'll shut up as long as they're not taxed.


A small correction: the Bil... (Below threshold)
KeithK:

A small correction: the Bill of Rights was not passed with the original document. It was introduced by the first Congress and ratified in 1791, two years after the Constitution was adopted.

Your comments on interpreta... (Below threshold)
Doug Indeap:

Your comments on interpretation of the Constitution (or, for that matter, any law) by the courts oversimplifies matters, I think.

Some constitutional provisions, of course, are precise and clear. For instance, article I, section 3, clause 4 states: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided." Little room for uncertainty there; pretty cut and dry.

Other provisions are far from precise and clear. For instance, the Fourth Amendment states: "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." The questions leap out. What is "unreasonable" in any particular case? What is or is not "probable cause" in a particular case? The amendment says nothing about cars; does the right to be secure against unreasonable searches extend to one's car? How about to papers placed in plain view on a front porch? Papers in a garbage can in the garage? In a garbage can on the curb awaiting the truck? If a warrant describes the place to be searched as the house at XYZ Street, does that include an attached garage? A detached garage? A car parked in the driveway? A car parked on the street in front of the house?

Courts confront such issues every day, and they must render decisions-and can't call for an amendment to the Constitution to clarify matters. So they interpret the words of the Constitution because they must do so in order to do their jobs. And when deciding a case of "first impression," i.e., a question that hasn't arisen before, a court establishes precedent, which it and other lower courts thereafter (in theory at least) follow.

The guiding principle in interpreting a law is to determine the intent of the legislature-or, in the case of the Constitution, the intent of those who had a hand in drafting and ratifying the Constitution. The courts typically look first to the words of a legal provision. If that does not resolve the issue, they may look for other evidence of the intent of the legislature. Generally, that entails reviewing the legislative history of the provision, typically found in the reports and documents of the pertinent legislative proceedings. If that does not suffice to resolve the issue, they may look further afield for relevant evidence, like the Supreme Court did when it reviewed Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists regarding the First Amendment. If all of that still leaves the issue unresolved, the court may step back and assess the function of the legal provision and interpret it to best serve that function. While not a perfect system, it's not bad.

With respect to the First Amendment, for instance, note that, by its terms, it constrains Congress, but says nothing of the Executive. Does this mean the President could, by proclamation, establish a national religion? Smart judges, seeing that such an end run would eviscerate the intent of the Amendment, wisely have ruled it does not. Similarly, judges, mindful that the Executive ultimately must base its various actions on laws passed by Congress, have ruled it cannot exercise its powers to act contrary to the Constitution's constraints on Congress. You agree, I gather, as you interpret the amendment to constrain the "federal government." As it turns out, it sometimes IS complicated. If it were otherwise, judging would be easy.

The Establishment Clause of... (Below threshold)
ron:

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment refers to the first installation in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".

Some body just said that the first amendment said that the first amendment said 'the' and not 'an'.....wrong.

Both retired military and I... (Below threshold)

Both retired military and I were watching the walking dead on TV last night and were horrified to see millions of angry Democratic voters.

Neither of us has seen a gathering of so many "Democratic" potty voters since a couple of years ago when, across America, millions of the "Democratic" potty incited, encouraged and facilitated invading and hostilely-colonizing criminal alien army (AKA the "Democratic" potty's "base") hit the streets.

Doug Indeap poses hypotheti... (Below threshold)

Doug Indeap poses hypotheticals like: "... does the right to be secure against unreasonable searches extend to one's car?" Despite having already answered the question with: " ... particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The united States' Constitution, "made only for a moral and religious people (and) wholly inadequate to the government of any other," requires that it be adjudicated on, not that it be "interpreted." And most certainly not by be-robed anally retentive elitist ignoramuses with politicians for promoters -- and the advancement of evil for motivation.




Advertisements









rightads.gif

beltwaybloggers.gif

insiderslogo.jpg

mba_blue.gif

Follow Wizbang

Follow Wizbang on FacebookFollow Wizbang on TwitterSubscribe to Wizbang feedWizbang Mobile

Contact

Send e-mail tips to us:

[email protected]

Fresh Links

Credits

Section Editor: Maggie Whitton

Editors: Jay Tea, Lorie Byrd, Kim Priestap, DJ Drummond, Michael Laprarie, Baron Von Ottomatic, Shawn Mallow, Rick, Dan Karipides, Michael Avitablile, Charlie Quidnunc, Steve Schippert

Emeritus: Paul, Mary Katherine Ham, Jim Addison, Alexander K. McClure, Cassy Fiano, Bill Jempty, John Stansbury, Rob Port

In Memorium: HughS

All original content copyright © 2003-2010 by Wizbang®, LLC. All rights reserved. Wizbang® is a registered service mark.

Powered by Movable Type Pro 4.361

Hosting by ServInt

Ratings on this site are powered by the Ajax Ratings Pro plugin for Movable Type.

Search on this site is powered by the FastSearch plugin for Movable Type.

Blogrolls on this site are powered by the MT-Blogroll.

Temporary site design is based on Cutline and Cutline for MT. Graphics by Apothegm Designs.

Author Login



Terms Of Service

DCMA Compliance Notice

Privacy Policy