As Christ was directing His apostles to accept their mission to follow His Way, it should be noted that He did not offer them the comforts of popularity or physical protection as they went forth:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…”
Later in the New Testament, Timothy took that “discomfort” one step further, asking followers to “…join me in suffering…”
Secularly, America’s Constitution does not require us automatically to forgo tranquility or safety in the enjoyment of our citizenship. However, before the Constitution’s ratification, Alexander Hamilton warned us of the intoxicating desire for people to sacrifice God-given liberty in exchange for physical safety, stating:
“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property…the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”
The message is simple: you can enjoy the freedoms that God provides in personal and national liberty, but that liberty may not provide you the comforts or personal protections that our flesh craves. At some point, one must choose between God-given liberty and risk discomfort and pain or choose an institution such as government that is “…big enough to give you everything you want (and) big enough to take away everything you have…”
Whereas the Trump administration has resisted the urge to stray away from this warning throughout much of the pandemic, many governors around the nation have eschewed Hamilton’s wise words. This week, a federal judge reminded one of the most egregious offenders of constitutional transparency and rule-of-law that the Constitution is a foundation for American life at all times, not merely a consideration to be ignored when times are bad.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV held that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s business shutdowns (particularly through a guarded “business waiver” program that initially allowed Wolf’s family business to remain open while thousands closed) and stay-at-home orders violated some constitutional protections.
“…good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge…(i)n an emergency, even a vigilant public may let down its guard over its constitutional liberties only to find that liberties, once relinquished, are hard to recoup and the restrictions…may persist long after immediate danger has passed…”
Thankfully, we are reminded through the courts that freedom is not an arbitrarily-designated enjoyment. God-given rights are defended by the Constitution. These rights are expectations for citizens, not temporary privileges. Rights within the United States are not granted by the elected and powerful, capable of being ripped from the masses through the whims of a politician guided by altruism or antagonism.
Throughout the pains of the pandemic, we have seen the failing of government leadership, even as they continue to wield power without the consent of the governed in many cases. In Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf had commandeered the shutdown of thousands of businesses, with the result being millions of Pennsylvanians having their income threatened or cut-off. This move, coupled with the failure of the unemployment system, left families without basic needs, leading to long food lines throughout the state as people scrambled to make ends meet. Restaurant closures because of capacity limitations were contrasted against Wolf’s participation in a large protest march (one of many large protests throughout the state) and his administration’s backroom deal to allow a car show to have 20,000 daily visitors. The Governor stated that he was “…trying to be transparent…”, even while he was actively blocking laws to restore government transparency.
As Judge Stickman pointed out: even with the best of intentions, our democracy works best with the consent of the governed through the unifying and uplifting tenets of the Constitution. That includes embracing the balance within the three equal branches of government (including the Legislature, a body that was basically ignored throughout the early days of the pandemic by Wolf) while threading the civic needle of defending personal liberties and providing pragmatic leadership in a responsible fashion.
Too often, leaders in America fail to understand that the guiding foundational force of our Constitution is not rooted in the rule of men as written by men. Constitutional guidance is an overarching principle that upholds the God-given rights of citizens of our United States, even when those rights are in stark contrast to the desires of men – whether that rule is based on pandemic fear, political fights, or other factors. Too often, we as Americans have looked towards the Constitution as a solid rock to build our dreams upon when it behooves us, yet cast it aside as an outdated document written by antiquated and flawed men whenever we face the discomforts of the founding document. For some, that moment comes when discussing stop-and-frisk as a 4th Amendment violation, while for others, it is when debating if personal protections afforded through the 2nd Amendment only applied during times of musket balls and pioneer living.
Simply put: The Constitution is not optional in America. In fact, the repeated flaw of making provisions within the “Bundle of Compromises” negotiable items when convenient has led to some of our most contentious challenges domestically (i.e., whether men and women are equal citizens, whether Blacks are equal to Whites as citizens, the definition of “due process” regarding life and liberty, etc.) The Constitution sought to put aside fear, discomfort, pain, and historic challenges. Its founding mantra trusts that good people and wise leaders can put aside the populist whims of any moment to resolve any contemporary issue at hand and fulfill the oaths that all elected officials take – to uphold the tenets of their local laws and our national founding principles. The blood of millions shed for our nation boils within the hallowed ground it spilled into each time a politician dishonors the sacrifices they made through the violation of the oaths that elected officials take. The ultimate altruistic act within America rests in the protection of God-given liberty as denoted within the Constitution. Anything else lays aside the spiritual and secular warnings of the past, with only “…the best laid plans of mice and men…” to follow.