The Constitution: What difference does it make?

Robert Morrison Senior Fellow, Family Research Council
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Hillary Clinton’s infamous question was hurled back at senators whom the lapdog media accused of badgering the outgoing secretary of state: “What difference does it make, Senator?”

She was talking, of course, about the four dead Americans at Benghazi. She was responding to the charge that she abandoned them to their fate on the night of September 11, 2012.

That famous ad she ran in her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama showed a telephone ringing in the White House at 3 a.m. The ad said we needed someone tried and ready to exercise authority.

In the actual crisis of 2012, however, that red telephone was answered by faceless State Department middlemen. Those bureaucrats who took the hit for Madame Secretary’s dereliction of duty doubtless enjoyed their year-long “administrative leave” – with full pay and benefits. That’s the wrist-slap her toadies got as a result of taking no action to rescue those Americans in harm’s way.

What difference does it make? That’s a great question. And it’s one we should ask ourselves today, Constitution Day. We have Russia’s latest dictator taking to the editorial pages of the New York Times to lecture us on the “dangerous” idea of American exceptionalism. Vladimir Putin doesn’t have to worry much about Russia’s constitution. If he doesn’t like any part of it, his Duma will rubber stamp it for him.

Well, Vladimir Vladimirovich, America is exceptional. And our Constitution is one reason why. As Ronald Reagan never tired of pointing out: Ours is the only Constitution in the world that begins with “We the people…” As Thomas Jefferson would say, “it is in the manners and spirit of the people that a republic is preserved in vigor.”

A republic is what our Constitution guarantees to us. No kings, no aristocrats, not even black-robed judicial masters to lord it over us. A republic is that form which, as Lincoln so eloquently described it, is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

We need to respond to President Obama’s promise – or was it a threat? – “to fundamentally transform this country.” The Constitution was drafted and approved to provide checks and balances on the exercise of power.

James Madison, Father of the Constitution, said it well: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” That men are not angels then or now is apparent every day. One obvious example: President Obama has just named law professor Cornelia Pillard to the all-important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Prof. Pillard says that women must have access to free contraception and abortion or they will be “conscripted” – her word – into motherhood.

If Prof. Pillard becomes Judge Pillard or, even worse, Justice Pillard, we would see a radical judge, serving a life term, who turns the Constitution on its head. The legislative branch’s power of the purse would be annulled by the judiciary. Can the people’s elected representatives vote not to pay for the killing of the unborn? Not if Prof. Pillard’s twisted view of the Constitution is adopted. Her appointment shows us President Obama’s radical priorities and confirms what many have feared about his inner beliefs.

Any resistance to this agenda will be condemned as a “war on women.” How strange it is because these same abortion activists condone sex-selection killings that are overwhelmingly targeted at unborn women. The vast majority of Americans oppose sex-selection abortions, but liberals say they must be fully funded because “the right to choose” death for the unborn is a constitutionally protected right.

The Obama administration is willing to flout the Constitution on issues like drug laws and recess appointments. But it even attacks the foundation of our free republic itself.

Religious freedom is not the star on the top of the Christmas tree, something nice to have if you like that sort of thing. Religious freedom is the root system of the tree. It is the necessary precondition for civil liberty.

That’s why James Madison pressed the Virginia General Assembly in 1786 to pass Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom. By establishing religious freedom in America’s largest, most powerful state, Jefferson and Madison provided a durable foundation for our U.S. Constitution.

You can trace the Constitution’s enlightened provisions on religion to the influence of Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom. It is truly an American Magna Carta.

Art. VI, Sec.3 of the U.S. Constitution states: “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” We see the Virginia Statute’s influence as well in the “no establishment/free exercise” provisions of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

Madison tells us in Federalist No. 51 that religious freedom is crucial.

“In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.”

This is why, not incidentally, we have seen no political freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, or Libya. Our own State Department ignored the wisdom of those earlier secretaries of state, Jefferson and Madison. Our State Department and our Defense Department have been waging wars to prop up Islamist regimes.

It is no wonder, therefore, that our constitutional protections for religious freedom are under the gravest attack in 226 years. Throughout out military, free exercise is being denied. FRC is leading a fight to preserve religious freedom for our service members.

Similarly, the notorious HHS contraceptive mandate of Obamacare threatens the religious freedom of hundreds of millions of Americans. It would force us to violate our consciences.

The federal takeover of health care also undermines federalism. It makes the states into little more than administrative units of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. That’s why 26 states went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to sue the Obama administration. And the ruling of the Court in June, 2012, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., that upheld Obamacare was one of the most illogical and baseless rulings in that eminent tribunal’s long history.

While Prof. Pillard does not want women to be “conscripted” into motherhood, the Obama administration has no problem conscripting three-year olds into government-directed pre-school. It’s part of an overall grab for unchecked power.

For example, the Constitution does not grant authority to the federal government to run our local schools. Both parties have forgotten this, and engaged in federal and executive usurpation of power.

It’s ironic to read the test for new citizens. Even this naturalization exam, which shows evidence of a liberal bias, cites education as a prime example of state, not federal authority.

The apologists for federal intrusion will scoff at our criticisms and claim they are only encouraging and advising states on education policy. Federal officials provide what they call “incentives” in the form of cash awards to states that comply with their demands. They say they only provide a tiny percentage – maybe as low as seven percent – of America’s spending on education.

But this is not how federal control works. It works like the mahout who trains elephants in India. The mahout jumps on the elephant’s back and prods the elephant behind the ear with a stick. In about a week, the elephant obediently goes backward, forward, left, right, up and down. On command. The mahout only weighs seven percent of what that elephant weighs. But the mahout has the stick.

In so many areas, we are departing from the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution they gave us on this day in 1787 is well worth preserving. It is also well worth reading. You can order your own copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from FRC or read these documents online.

This is a day to remember as well the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin. As he was leaving Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the conclusion of the Great Convention in 1787, an American lady asked him if he had given the nation a monarchy or a republic. Wise Ben, with a twinkle in his eye, doffed his hat and said: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Today, let us pray we can keep Ben Franklin’s republic.

Robert Morrison is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.