Few topics stir as much debate and discussion as the right to “free speech” and bear arms” among the American public. Along with several others, these rights were enumerated in a document written in the 18th century by men who, for all their sincerity and conviction to “inalienable rights” of liberty and freedom, could not conceive of a society where these “rights” were extended to black slaves and women. The mere fact that our U.S. constitution has had to be amended several times to more clearly define and extend rights to all Americans, under cuts the notion that the document is an infallible or sacred doctrine of government.
Can you take the oath of office on the Holy constitution?
Just as there are those people who contend that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, adherents to the original intent of the U.S. Constitution place an inordinate amount of faith that it is some how a sacred or holy text. The constitution was meant as framework for how the government should work in the lives of citizens, not as guide to how people will behave. The framers of the constitution were not immune from the politics of the day or the compromises necessary to gain consensus and ultimate passage. Consequently, items were added and removed over the objection of some of the delegates.
Constitutional Rights or What is Right
With gun control captivating the nation’s attention following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut I have watched as individuals and organizations constantly invoke the second amendment guaranteeing the right of American citizens to own as many firearms of their choosing. Just as there are limits to our right to free speech, there will and must be limits to our other rights. The Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to our constitution illuminate the progress and ultimate intent of the original authors of the document that our outline for U. S. government must not only safeguard acknowledged “rights” but we must also recognize what is right and best for society.
Alcohol was determined to be a sacred right
Today we can review the constitution through the lens of 225 years of history and changes to technology and society. Some of the rights that were absent from the original document and Bill of Rights such slavery and women’s suffrage seems to glare at us with contempt. We have seen attempts to prohibit alcohol consumption and include a sweeping statement on equal rights for all Americans. Historical fate could have left us with other constitutional rights that are just as thorny as a “well armed militia.”
Give me a horse or give me death
What if horse ownership was enshrined in the constitution? While it seems absurd in our car-centric world that the right to own a horse would be necessary today, denying a horse, cow or oxen would render many 18th century Americans without a means to survive. If the British had imposed restrictions or taxes on horse ownership, it very could have been a right embodied in the constitution. There is no doubt that the street cleaning division of cities would be as necessary as police or fire. It makes for good comedy to consider the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments whether sidewalks and bike lanes infringe on your neighbors right to own and board a horse in your suburban development.
Snake handling could be a constitutional right
What if our constitution identified a national religion? It would not be unreasonable speculate that
we could have had national religion since most of the authors belonged to the new Episcopal church. If America didn’t have such a tradition of harboring those fleeing from religious persecution coupled with deep undertones of Christianity in the constitution, a national religion easily could have been installed. Now that the Washington National Cathedral has confirmed they will perform same sex weddings, if the Episcopal Church had been ordained in our constitution, marriage equality would become the law of the land.
What does a modern constitution look like?
I know you are laughing at me because horse ownership and a national religion are too far fetched to have ever been included in a constitution. What is even crazier to some people is that the United States might have another constitutional convention to completely update a 200+ year old document. That is not so strange to Switzerland who re-wrote and ratified a new federal constitution in 1999. While it addresses some of the modern issues like equality and environment, there are some items that made me scratch my head.
Even if the Swiss constitution doesn’t endorse a religion and safeguards religious freedom, they have also made sure no foreign religious influence gains a significant toe-hold either. Download entire Swiss constitution ->[download id=”38″]
Art. 72 Church and state
3 The construction of minarets is prohibited.33
So I will assume that Islam isn’t a dominant religion in Switzerland and they are making sure it won’t be. Some groups in America that would like to see this Swiss article as an amendment to our constitution as well.
Switzerland is a small country and space is a premium. To ensure that the wealthy don’t monopolize precious housing units, the constitution has some limits on second homes.
Art. 75b35 Second homes*
1 No more than 20 per cent of the total stock of residential units and the gross residential floor area in any commune may be used as second homes.
Not only does the Swiss constitution place a curb on second homes, unthinkable here in the U.S., it actually mention a word that makes conservatives shudder: commune.
Here is a provision in the Swiss constitution that would drive the National Rifle Association bonkers.
Art. 107 Weapons and war material
1 The Confederation shall legislate against misuse of weapons and their accessories and ammunition.
2 It shall legislate on the manufacture, procurement and sale of war material as well as the import, export and transit of such material.
And for those that think health insurance can’t be made mandatory and be a constitutional right, the Swiss see it different.
1 The Confederation shall legislate on health and accident insurance.
2 It may declare health and the accident insurance to be compulsory, either in general terms or for individual sections of the population.
In direct opposition to our English only language mind set, the Swiss are a little progressive and realistic on this item.
Art. 70 Languages
1 The official languages of the Confederation shall be German, French and Italian.
Romansh shall also be an official language of the Confederation when communicating with persons who speak Romansh.
Are gun rights more import than a right to clean water or air?
As scientific discoveries have had a greater impact in our lives, society and government, there are surely updates to the U.S. constitution that recognize knowledge unknown in the 18th century. There is no explicit right to clean water or air in the constitution. There is irrefutable evidence that polluted water and air lead to disease and injury. In light of these scientific findings we have created numerous laws protecting drinking water and air. There is no doubt in my mind that if we developed a constitution today, the right to clean and water would be included.
What is Right?
The right to own a gun could just as easily been the right to own a horse. While the delegates to the constitutional convention did their best to create a document for the ages, our world has changed well beyond what anyone could have imagined. The lack of a right doesn’t mean our government hasn’t tried to protect the people. Just as we have worked to ensure all Americans have access to clean air and water, if the gun right was missing from the constitution, I am sure common sense legislation would protect gun ownership for sport, collection and protection.
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