Moral Contradictions

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mayflower Compact and the Constitution

I was just randomly clicking other links of blogs I like to read, and I came across Jim Huff's John Lockean blog. Having studied John Locke a fair bit, I wanted to see what exactly the title meant. The current entry is dated March 18, 2005, but is still applicable. (I apologize for any misspellings or grammar mistakes... it's way too late.)

Jim explains the notion of principles and how many politicians claim to be a "person of principle". He then analyzes the principles of separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience in light of the fact that those exact words are not found in the Constitution. Many folks hold them dear, but they are not spelled out in those exact terms.

He seizes on the underlying principle of the passage "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Then he critiques the underlying principle behind Oklahoma House of Representatives HB 2015, a bill to allow posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and government buildings. Supporting lawmakers used the Mayflower Compact "Glory of God principle" to justify its passage.

My eyes perked after reading this because D. James Kennedy's sermon this weekend on the Coral Ridge Hour appears to be built around the Mayflower Compact and the "Founding Father's intent". I am intrigued as to exactly what he will say, but I have an idea of his theme.

With a degree in history, Jim Huff beautifully explains my deep-seated skepticism of using this document to justify the Founding Father's intent in writing the Constitution.

Never mind the fact that the Mayflower Compact applied only to the 41 male signers of the document and their families. There was no view that the Compact applied to the Jamestown Colony established in 1607. There was no anticipation that the colonies would separate from the King of England one hundred and fifty-six years in the future in 1776. The Mayflower signers had no notion of the future United States Constitution ratified in 1789, one hundred and sixty-nine years in the future.


We must remember that the nation as we know it and the foundation of all our laws was not laid until 1789. The Declaration of Independence separated us from the United Kingdom but did not establish a country. The Articles of Confederation kept all of the states sovereign, (for eight years England refused to send a minister because it suggested that if it sent one, it would have to send 13) and America was more a name than anything else.

On both sides of this debate, I disagree with injecting our beliefs into our interpretation of the "Founding Fathers intent". Yes we have the writings of many of the Founders, but in this regard we must only read those present at the Constitutional Convention. Furthermore we simply do not have all the Founder's remarks and thoughts on what they wrote. For either side it is so simple to grasp hold of one or two quotes by just one Founder and claim victory.

We must also discard the "Ten Commandments principle" attributed to James Madison as he simply did not say or write that the "future of American civilization had been staked not upon civil government, but upon the capability of Americans to ‘govern ourselves… according to the Ten Commandments". That quote is false and simply discredits those who bring it to the table.

All that withstanding, the "strict constructionists" of the Constitution can be very selective about what they read literally and what they add to the document. The not-so-strict constructionists must be careful in balancing the underlying principle with the actual wording. Both sides can easily find themselves on shaky ground.

Thus, we must be careful in regards to the Constitution. For all intents and purposes, it is the "Bible" of our country. In courts of law and houses of law-making, that one document is above them all. One can bring up all the quotes they want, all other revered documents of our country, Bible verses, and influences from the contempory philosophy, but in the end as my pastor says "let's look to see what the text says".

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