liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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Has Everyone Read Their Constitution(s)?

Blergh. The stomach thing is I've got feels like "revenge of the week off, no you're not going to enjoy it, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

So, yes, I'm still planning to finish posting the final parts for Behold, Little Padawan! today, but there may be delays due to blechy personal needs.

In any case, said blechy personal needs had me up last night till all hours. And when I get in that space where I'm too punchy to think, but too awake (due to one reason or another) to sleep, I tend to do some pretty weird randomly look things up on the Internet.

I decided to look up my state constitution and actually read through it. It's an exercise I highly recommend to others in the U.S., because I'm sure you'll find it a highly enlightening experience.

Oh, the hell with that. I'd recommend that everyone, everywhere dig up the founding documents of your country, province, state, county, city charter, or however you split up your government, and actually read it. I think you'll find some fascinating stuff in them thar words.

Now, I've read The Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution multiple times between my middle school and high school years. Certainly I read them enough that I know vaguely where everything is in both docs so that I can easily look up Articles and Sections as necessary.

[I should note, that this knowledge of both documents resulted in my getting into a row with Alan Keyes during my reporter days during his first run for president. Yes, that Alan Keyes. The way the man overreacted when I called him on something he claimed was in The Declaration of Independence, you'd think he never met someone my age who'd actually read and re-read both documents.]

Interestingly enough, however, I had never actually read The Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I mean, sure, I looked up various Articles and Sections to find out about how various arcane rules of legislature worked (this was prompted in large part to get educated about the fight for Equity Marriage in the People's Republic of Massachusetts), but I had never actually read it. Shameful for someone who once worked as an actual reporter in the state.

Until ickyness intervened and there I was starting at my screen in a brain-dead way and asking myself, "Hmmmm, I wonder what my state constitution actually says."

It's a fascinating document and reading unbelievable as it sounds, shows that founders of this state had a slightly different idea of what constituted "good government" and "good citizenship" then the U.S. founders did.

Also interesting: The Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts actually starts with what would be The Bill of Rights, which was tacked on at the end of the U.S. Constitution as a way to convince the states they should ratify the document.

In short, there's a reason why the state founders designated Massachusetts as a "commonwealth," and it all seems to come down to this: It's a series of interlocking rights and responsibilities, not just of government to the people, but of people to their government, and by extension to society as a whole.

Or, as JFK put it in his 1961 Inaugural Address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

JFK basically summarized in one pithy sentence this: (Bold emphasis is mine.)

The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body politic, to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquillity their natural rights, and the blessings of life: and whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness.

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a constitution of government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation, and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them.

We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Then you see the amendments for some things that make you go, "What the hell?" At least until you actually saw what they did.

This one's my favorite, because it was the first one I saw that made me go, "Ummmm, did they actually remove our rights by amendment?"

Then I realized they actually replaced it with something that granted more rights.

Here's the original:

Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. [Annulled by Amendments, Art. CVI.]

Note that after that stirring opening, you see in brackets the word "annulled." It was a true WtF moment for me. Until I saw what actually replaced it, and then my own reaction made me laugh.

Here's what replaced it:

Article CVI. Article I of Part the First of the Constitution is hereby annulled and the following is adopted:-

All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.

Why is this change important?

This my friends, in part, was the basis for the Commonwealth's Supreme Court to rule in favor of Equality Marriage in Goodridge v. Mass. Department of Public Health.

Then there are some things that make you clutch your heart in horror, until you realize that constitutional amendments can be your friend.

I know this will shock some people, who think we're a bunch of pagan-worshiping, tree-hugging, killjoys of the capitalist spirit who are all about the buttsecks and waging a war on "real Americans" to supplant it was cheese-eating Europeanism, but here's a passage that basically designates Massachusetts as a "Christian" entity.

The original passage (Once agan, bold emphasis is mine):

Article III. [As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.

And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subjects an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.

Provided, notwithstanding, that the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, shall, at all times, have the exclusive right of electing their public teachers, and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.

And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship, and of the public teachers aforesaid, shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid towards the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.

Any every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.] [Art. XI of the Amendments substituted for this].

That's right. An establishment clause that is specifically worded to make Christianity (specifically, the different sects of Protestant Christianity) the official state religion.

My reaction? "What the hell?" No. Seriously. That was the sum total of my reaction.

You can bet I clicked very fast to see what replaced it.

Hooray! Good sense had prevailed!

Here's the change that was enacted in 1917 (Once more, bold emphasis mine):

Article XI. Instead of the third article of the bill of rights, the following modification and amendment thereof is substituted.

"As the public worship of God and instructions in piety, religion and morality, promote the happiness and prosperity of a people and the security of a republican government; -- therefore, the several religious societies of this commonwealth, whether corporate or unincorporate, at any meeting legally warned and holden for that purpose, shall ever have the right to elect their pastors or religious teachers, to contract with them for their support, to raise money for erecting and repairing houses for public worship, for the maintenance of religious instruction, and for the payment of necessary expenses: and all persons belonging to any religious society shall be taken and held to be members, until they shall file with the clerk of such society, a written notice, declaring the dissolution of their membership, and thenceforth shall not be liable for any grant or contract which may be thereafter made, or entered into by such society: -- and all religious sects and denominations, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good citizens of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law." [See Amendments, Arts. XLVI and XLVIII, The Initiative, section 2, and The Referendum, section 2].

Hooray! Now all religions get to play!

Naturally, there's a lot more that's interesting in it (and I haven't finished reading the whole thing since, y'know, blechy-ness), but on the whole, I find it to be a very worthwhile pursuit.

Who knew that sometimes the fight to battle your own ignorance should start right in your backyard?

I consider myself well and truly schooled on the matter.

As we enter into an election season where people are heavily throwing around what they think the U.S. Constitution says and doesn't say, familiarity with all founding government documents is the best way to fine-tune the bullshit detector.

So go forth and read! And get to know how your government is supposed to work. It's the best ammunition you can possibly have.

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