Authority: Problems in the Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

1.  The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”  This is a landmark decision for the progress of secularism.  Although it is virtually impossible for a modern day citizen in the United States to understand, most of human history has been filled with the State recognizing its responsibility to “establish religion”.

The original Westminster Confession of Faith (written in the 17th century and drawing heavily upon the “Institutes of the Christian Religion” by John Calvin) had this to say about the role of the civil magistrate with respect to the Church:  “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be under Him and over the people for His own glory and the public good….The civil magistrate has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed…”  In essence, the WCF asserted that it was the duty of the civil magistrate to enforce the first table of the law of God as well as the second table.

This position was by no means unusual or extraordinary for that time or for most of human history for that matter.  However, when the WCF’s position on civil government ran into US Constitutionalism, something had to give.  It is not hard to guess who lost.

In light of the writings of the US Constitution it was determined by the reformed churches in the United States that an amendment needed to be made to the WCF.  All assertions about the magistrate being responsible to enforce the first table of the law were removed.  No theological reasons were given for the removal.  All references to the “old” WCF were couched in terms like “antiquated”, “outdated”, and “misinformed”.  It was a great propaganda smear campaign and it was easy to win over the minds of Americans who were already sedated by the twin pillars of democracy and constitutionalism.  Today, few reformed theologians are even aware that the confession they swear an oath to uphold has been modified to bring it into line with the US Constitution.

The “Establishment” clause of the First Amendment specifically repudiates the duty of the civil magistrate to establish the Law of God as the law of the land.  If no particular religion may be established (and in this case we all understand that the writers of the Bill or Rights  were referring to the various denominations of Christianity) then it follows that the law of the land must be based upon some other authority.   In essence, this clause asserts the argument that it is the duty of the state to be secular.  Any attempt to establish a religion would be sectarian.  Therefore, this clause is a confession that the Constitution of the United States establishes a secular government in which “the people” are sovereign. There is a name for this political/philosophical position:  secular humanism.

The problem with this amendment to the Constitution is that it does not recognize that all of life is essentially religious.  By asserting that the state may not establish a religion, it ends up establishing a religion.  Secular humanism does not have the liturgical trappings of other religions but it is a religion nonetheless.  Under secular humanism, god is the majority will of the people.  The means of revelation is rationalism.  The source of revelation is natural law.  The priesthood consists of the members of the governmental bureaucracy.  It has taken some time for the fruits of this amendment to be worked out in the life of the nation.  However, there can be no doubt that secular humanism is the official religion of the United States today.

2.  The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says this, “No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…”  This is the infamous “I plead the fifth” amendment that we are all so familiar with.  It allows a person to be legally non-cooperative with the magistrate in investigations in which he is guilty.

Nothing could be further from the biblical practice.  In seeking to ascertain the veracity of an accusation, all witnesses and possible suspects under the biblical system are expected to be fully honest and forthcoming in their testimonies.  There is absolutely no provision for refusing to answer a direct question if there is a possibility that answering it will land you in jail.  In fact, the civil authorities under a biblical system require the taking of an oath of truthfulness precisely so that the suspect will be intimidated into telling the truth, lest he face the vengeance of God Himself.

Biblical criminal investigations and prosecutions are designed to discover truth.  All parties to the investigation and prosecution are expected to cooperate.  The Constitutional system is designed to stymie the process of the discovery of the truth and to instigate an adversarial environment between the magistrate and the subject.  This inevitably results in less information and the tendency to “plea bargain” away the investigation and the prosecution of a case.  Justice is rarely served under that system.

3.  The Eighth Amendment is the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment”.  As it is currently interpreted by the court system in the US it generally means that the death penalty may not be applied.

Biblical law recognizes many crimes/sins for which the death penalty may be applied.  Included in them are:  blasphemy, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, and murder.  The law today does not even address the issue of the death penalty for those crimes in the Bible that require the death penalty.  It is simply assumed that, under the US Constitution, the death penalty would be cruel and unusual.  Indeed, many of the crimes in the above list are not even considered to be crimes and, in fact, some of them are “constitutionally protected behaviors”!

4.  The Fourteenth Amendment says, “All persons born in the United States…are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Becoming a citizen of a sovereign nation is an action that should require the swearing of a citizenship oath.  Prior to 1868 in this country that truth was recognized as a fact.  However, since the 14th Amendment was ratified all persons born in the US are automatically deemed to be citizens of the US, whether they desire that citizenship or not.

I know it is difficult for people who have been raised in an environment of statist propaganda to even conceive of the possibility that somebody might not want to be a citizen of the US.  Nevertheless, it is possible to hold a principled, biblical position that a person would rather not be a citizen of the US.  In most cases the individual would prefer to maintain a resident alien status with respect to federal citizenship.

As we have seen, an oath is a serious thing that one should not take unless one is fully convinced of the truthfulness of what is being vowed.  Furthermore, one should not swear an oath to uphold a document unless one is fully persuaded of the rightness of the behaviors required by that document.  The 14th amendment pulls an end run around all of this.

Without the taking of an oath, without the intellectual awareness of adulthood, without the opportunity to object to the contents of the oath, the US Constitution now flatly states that all people born on US soil have taken an implied oath of citizenship and are, in fact, fully citizens of the US.

The Bible clearly teaches that a person should never be forced to take an oath (oral, written, or implied) that binds his conscience to something that he is not fully persuaded is true.  The 14th amendment covenantally links anyone born in this country to the Constitution of the United States, whether they want to be covenantally linked or not.  It grants them all sorts of power and authorities, whether they want, or believe they have them, or not.  It grants them all sorts of dubious federal government privileges (access to federal government transfer payment programs) whether they want them or consider them to be legalized stealing or not.  In short, it imposes an unspoken oath of obedience to a document that binds the conscience of every Christian in contradiction to the Word of God.  The 14th amendment provides no means of escape from the legal status of “citizen of the US” that would allow a person with a principled, biblical stance against the Constitution of the United States to remain a subject of the US, but not a citizen of the US.

To understand the content of the oath that is imputed to all people born on US soil it would be worth looking at the oath sworn by those who become citizens as adults.  Here is what it says:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.”

This oath dramatically illustrates that citizenship is more than just swearing to uphold the Constitution. In addition a citizen is expected to obey the law of the US and submit to military conscription and fight in any war that the federal government declares.  Not only may a citizen be required to fight (or serve in a non-fighting capacity) in a war which he might deem to be immoral, but he also must be willing to be a part of any “work of national importance”.  What if the federal government determines that marching in a gay rights parade is a “work of national importance”?  What is the poor Christian citizen to do?

I suspect that if all US subjects were required to take the oath of citizenship at the age of 20 years old we would find many Christians who object, especially if they had taken the time to read the Constitution.  Why do we object any less when this oath is unilaterally applied to us by fiat simply because we came into this world within the geopolitical boundary of the United States?

The implications of my argument here are far reaching.  If I am correct, it means that no Christian could ever serve in any position in which the taking of an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the US is required.  It means that the myriads of Christians who are now serving in positions where they have taken that oath have no choice but to sin:  either they sin by obeying the Constitution and disobeying God, or they sin by refusing to honor the contents of their oath.  In all cases, I would suggest immediate resignation of the position.

Christians have recently held the view that the best way to affect biblical change in the US political system is to become a part of it.  With good men on the inside, so we are told, we can make changes that are pleasing to God.  I would suggest just the opposite.  You do not change a system by making your first official act to be the swearing of an oath to uphold that system.  You change a system by leaving it and using the weapons of warfare that God has given to His Church; namely the preaching of the Gospel and the praying of imprecatory prayers against His enemies.

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