[Editor: This is the first in a series of op-ed columns examining the conflict between secular and religious goals in today’s society.]
In an address entitled “A Sense of the Sacred,” given at a young adult fireside in 2004, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
“If one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them.”
He spoke of the holy things that naturally come to mind: prophets and scripture, the body as a temple of God, sacred places and occasions, etc. In a different venue, however, Elder Christofferson, given his special experiences in the legal profession, would surely have added one other sacred thing to the list: The U.S. Constitution.
Anything the Lord establishes is, by definition, sacred, and He Himself established the Constitution as detailed in D&C 101:
“And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose…”
This scripture together with Elder Christofferson’s warning tells us that the Constitution of the United States is sacred and that the same conditions of respect and reverence apply to it as apply to other sacred things.
It then follows that disrespecting, diminishing, or ignoring it – dissing it, in today’s parlance – poses a substantial danger to the wellbeing of America because such actions are mockery of a God-given sacred gift.
Simply put, it can and might be lost.
Let’s look at three recent unsettling incidents.
The Constitution is Old
The Constitution’s age is being used a reason to diminish it because it was written in a different era with different problems – in short, that it isn’t keeping up with the times.U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a recent interview on Egyptian TV said:
“I can’t speak about what the Egyptian experience should be, because I’m operating under a rather old constitution. The United States, in comparison to Egypt, is a very new nation; and yet we have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world…. I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa.”
Does “operating under a rather old constitution” mean that something newer must necessarily be better?
Might not having “the oldest written constitution still in force in the world” indicate that perhaps it’s working – that it contains timeless principles?
Browse through the 90-page Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and you will find many directives, rules, and regulations about people’s rights and the powers of government, but I defy anyone to find one principle of governance that is superior to the principles in the U.S. Constitution in controlling power in the hands of fallible humans, which has been the single biggest obstacle bedeviling would-be nation builders throughout history.
Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that all judicial officers “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution…” Doesn’t the word support imply speaking well of it, appreciating it, defending it?
Justice Ginsburg’s remarks, on the other hand, suggest she views the Constitution as a shackling device under which she chafes.
The Constitution Is Difficult
Consider in this vein President Barack Obama’s recent remarks to NBC reporter Matt Lauer:
“What’s frustrated people is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008. Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change that I would like sometimes.”
That’s precisely the point, Mr. President. Our Founders designed the system so that one person’s agenda, no matter how firmly he may believe its benefits,would be difficult to bring about – and must be difficult if improper uses of power are to be stymied:
- That one branch of government cannot unilaterally force its will on any other.
- That those holding power would be double-checked by other power holders in government.
- That thought, reflection, debate, and negotiations would be required among all parties of interest before a policy is enacted.
The Constitution is a strength, not a weakness.Holy things help us, not hinder us; they make life easier, not more difficult.
Can you imagine a Mormon whining that following the requirements of a holy thing – say, for example, temple attendance – makes it difficult to implement his own agenda?And if he did, how could it be said that he appreciates, let alone reveres, a sacred thing?
The Constitution Doesn’t Apply
Then there are the many examples where the limits on the government, enumerated in the Constitution, are conveniently ignored. Hottest among them today is the directive from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius requiring that the Catholic Church pay for insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing pharmaceuticals for all of its employees. (To give this reach its perspective, 13% of all hospitals in America are Catholic affiliated.)
The supposed power to do so conflicts not only with the enumerated powers clause of the Constitution, but more severely with the First Amendment.That an intrusion into such private matters would even reach this stage is not strong evidence that Ms. Sibelius understands and respects the Constitution.
In a Supreme Court debate, Justice Antonin Scalia once challenged an attorney’s flowery argument by saying, “That is lovely philosophy. Where is it in the Constitution?”
In this case, Secretary Sibelius, your directive that the Catholic Church violate its religious principles isn’t even lovely philosophy.
The Slippery Slope
After Elder Christofferson said that “if one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them,” he continued:
“Absent a feeling of reverence, he will grow increasingly casual in attitude and lax in conduct. He will drift from the moorings … his feeling of accountability …will diminish and then be forgotten. … He will come to despise sacred things…”
Describe anyone you know? Elder Christofferson then said:
“On the other hand, with a sense of the sacred, one grows in understanding and truth.”
We Mormons revere the Constitution. It would be nice if certain officers and leaders of our nation could bring themselves to at least show appreciation for it, cultivate a sense of the sacred, and thus grow in understanding its deep and eternal principles.
So we don’t lose it.
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Later columns in this series will examine key principles in the Constitution, Joseph Smith’s concerns for its future, and ideas how to defend it.
Gary Lawrence is a political pollster and author of two books: “How Americans View Mormonism” and “Mormons Believe … What?!”