Debating The U.S. Constitution
The Modified Lincoln-Douglas Style Debate Between A Constitutionalist And A Democrat Was Sponsored By The Conservative Business League; Another Is Scheduled For May 13 In Casa Grande
Gilbert School Board Candidate Ron Bellus, and Gina Bellus (dressed as Mr. and Mrs. George Washington), and Debra Banks of the Central Arizona College Board of Directors.
Harold Vangilder, State Senate LD 8 Republican candidate.
Adam Stevens, Republican candidate for LD 16 State House.
By Chris Braswell
Modern Times Magazine
May 9, 2014 — With the Aug. 26 Arizona primary election quickly approaching, the state’s summer will soon not just be an oven, but an oven that will spawn a slew of political hot potatoes.
With that in mind, and in the spirit of community dialog and public discourse, former Maricopa County Prosecutor Shane Krauser, and perennial democratic candidate for Arizona’s U.S. District 4, Mikel Weisser, participated in the Freedom's Fight Night Great Constitutional Debate event Tuesday at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley. The event was put together by Krauser’s American Academy for Constitutional Education of which he is the founder and director.
The friendly contest was in a modified Lincoln-Douglas debate style, comprising of argument based on four questions. The event was sponsored by the Conservative Business League (http://www.conservativebusinessleague
.com/), and another is scheduled for May 13 at Casa Grande Middle School. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/events/
As the evening’s conversation centered on the interpretation of a primary historical source document, it seemed to place Weisser in a naturally weak rhetorical position, as Krauser’s platform is one of a minimalist and more rigid interpretation of the Constitution’s language.
Generally, as a “Constitutionalist,” Krauser was easily put upon to argue in conformance with his stated political platform, which centers on the axiomatic moral or philosophical simplicity of the United States Constitution. Debating and defending this point of view is generally an exercise in defending a very semantically and philosophically defensible position.
Meanwhile, Weisser was put upon to argue in conformance with his known democratic-minded platform. In contrast with Krauser’s sharp, simple and historically interpreted position regarding the founding fathers' consensus, Weisser's approach to government is philosophically rooted in respecting the founding fathers while also understanding historical shades of gray and societal change.
The program comprised four questions.
Question One: Should There Be No Limits On The Exercise Of Religion?
Krauser quoted the First Amendment, which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“Congress shall make no law...,” Krauser said. “The converse (or opposite) of that is that the government cannot take sanctions against an individual because of their world view. Problems arise when we tell other people what to do. There is a constant attack on the free exercise of religion.”
Krauser cited the recently failed Arizona Senate Bill 1062, sometimes referred to as “the denial of service bill,” which was vetoed by Governor Janice Brewer during the second session of the 51st Arizona Legislature. It was one of several pieces of model legislation encountered among various American state legislatures to allow individuals to refuse service based on religion. Some media dialog reported SB 1062 as discriminatory of homosexual, bisexual, or other non-traditional gender dispositions, although, Arizona law provides no protection against discrimination on the basis of sex orientation. SB 1062 would have enabled a blanket application of denial of service for religious reasons.
“The fact of the matter is, we really shouldn't have needed a law like this,” Krauser said. “A person does not lose their faith because they start a business, a person does not leave their faith at the door.”
And regarding the question of no limits on freedom of religion, Weisser said, “that is an abstract statement and when it comes to reality, there has to be a limit. We have to have reasonable expectations of what is appropriate and what is not.”
Weisser posed to Krauser the hypothetical question of whether, if done in the name of religion, killing babies would be protected as religious freedom, to which Krauser responded in the negative and the men agreed.
“It could be said that America's history has been our attempts to live up to the founding father's ideas,” Weisser said. The original colonies on this continent were established either in the name of religion or in flight from religious persecution, Weisser said.
“The bottom line is that just because a person is free to do something does not mean it has value,” Krauser said. He suggested it is better to use market forces to discourage unwanted behavior.
On the other hand, “freedom from religion is under attack,” Weisser said. “And market forces do not solve issues of criminality or morality. Our constitution was made to protect us from having other people's religion forced upon us.”
Question Two: Is The Constitution A 'Living, Breathing' Document?
“Yes, from it's conception,” Weisser said. “It is written to continue to adapt.”
Weisser cited any number of negative historical sociological aspects of the era of the founding fathers, such as racism and sexism, as arguments of why the Constitution must be viewed as a flexible document that must be interpreted in its respective contemporary context.
A living and breathing document? Krauser's answer: “There is no such thing.”
A Constitutionalist perspective holds that the basic structure of government and the U.S. Bill of Rights (the first 12 constitutional amendments) is an effort at underwriting and protecting true axiomatic liberty, no more and no less.
However, even with that perspective, these documents were as potentially prone to misinterpretation in the late 18th century as they are today, but arguably, that represents a failure in interpretation, not necessarily a failure in the spirit of the documents, which are fairly straightforward, semantically.
“The Constitution basically states that men and women are born free and men and women with power cannot be trusted,” Krauser said. “It's meaning is not altered,” he said. Krauser questioned the soundness of a political foundation that “evolves with time,” and he warned that such ongoing adjustment and “constructionism” lays the foundation for “the tyranny of the majority.”
In addition to changes in social enlightenment that have occurred, Weisser questioned the wisdom of such interpretative rigidity in light of changing technology, which he said the forefathers were not able to fathom in the late 18th century. For example, what would have been the founding fathers’ intent regarding Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizures in a modern technological context.
The simple truth of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights can be preserved, without constructionism or derivative interpretations, through allowing the more complex roles of government to be taken on by the individual states, Krauser said. He reiterated that the Constitution was engineered to provide the most simple and effective protocol for the federal government, in a political environment that was extremely wary of strong central governments.
Weisser said that constitutional amendments, generally reflect subsequent changes which are “all reflections of the society at the time.”
Question Three: Should the General Welfare Clause Be Limited?
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution stipulates powers of taxation for the U.S. Legislature, for the purposes of paying the debts of, and providing for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. Varying interpretations of the term “general welfare” tend to have implications regarding the size and role of the federal government.
“We live in a system of government that is simply too big,” Krauser said. “The bigger a government is, the less free people ultimately are.”
Appropriating for the general welfare of the nation is not meant to be a catch-all phrase of everything barring neglect, Krauser said. Broad interpretations of the general welfare clause lead to incorporations of federal roles that lead to an oversized bureaucracy, he said, and such an interpretation is also not consistent with the inclinations of the founding fathers nor with historical precedent.
If the general welfare clause were intended to be all-encompassing, Krauser argued, then there would be no need for the iterations in Article 1, Section 8, such as the postal road and army/navy clauses.
“There's nothing about food stamps, there's nothing about healthcare at the federal level, because those are best left to the states,” Krauser said.
“I do not understand the idea of rejecting a government because it is big,” Weisser said. “That's OK. We have a country of 300 million people, we have a country that covers a continent. Why would we want to limit what we do to promote the general welfare? Stop looking for some excuse to use the Constitution to stop caring about the rights and the lives of others.”
Weisser said the general welfare clause is not limited to the stipulations subsequently named in Article 1, Section 8, but rather is a phrase that provides moral direction regarding what can be appropriated by the Congress.
“If we are not looking at the general welfare of all people, even ones that we don't like, then we fall into the trap of special interests,” Weisser said.
Question Four: Should The Second Amendment Be Altered?
It is only 27 words: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
On its face, the meaning of the sentence seems to be that of a clear and unambiguous instruction for orderliness among the militia, regardless of whether said militia is juxtaposed among a homeowners association or a fleet of merchant marines, in the context of an ad hoc system where individual self governance and autonomous local governance are responsibilities put entirely upon the constituency.
Weisser's initial response: “Not really, but it should be enforced. I believe the Second Amendment gives us the guidelines of what they were expecting to get out of a militia.”
However, a “big obsession with guns, or the worship of guns, which are a tool for destruction,” is problematic, Weisser said. Weisser that he is a pacifist but that he does own firearms, and clarified that neither he nor the local Democratic caucus has a platform of taking away guns or gun rights.
Weisser said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ existing limitations on firearms is appropriate.
Krauser labeled Weisser's position as a type of “Utopian Pacifist,” noting that he would also consider himself to be a Utopian Pacifist. Krauser also took a position that the ATF is an illegitimate agency, inasmuch as its establishment occurs beyond the purview of Congress to stipulated in Article 1 Section 8.
“I don't know why we live in a country that constantly divides itself over someone's right to have weapons,” Weisser said.
Chris Braswell is the managing editor of Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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