Jesus, Jefferson and North Dakota to the rescue!
South Dakota has Mt. Rushmore, but North Dakota has its state-owned bank—the only one in the nation. North Dakota should also soon have the first “Personhood Amendment” in the country, declaring or rather reaffirming in its constitution, “the inalienable right to life of every human being at every stage of development.”
North Dakota’s Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 4009, adopted by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration on Friday 8 February 2013, reads as follows:
“The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”
Implementing legislation, SB 2303, also adopted by the North Dakota Senate, “ensures that the protection our criminal laws afford to victims of crimes extends to all human beings born and unborn.”
Despite SB 2303, it may well be doubted that the proposed constitutional amendment actually encompasses the “unborn” in its language. However, the proposed amendment provides, at least in terms, absolute protection for infants, children, adolescents and adults of whatever description. If the elderly may be thought to be in special danger—say, by denial of life-saving medicine, treatment or care—the North Dakota amendment seems to protect them, too.
That’s what an “inalienable right to life” means. When embodied in law, and not merely stated as a political principle; an “inalienable right” is one, which cannot be surrendered by its owner—nor be taken from him or her, whether arbitrarily and without a pretext, or for what may seem the most compelling of reasons for killing him or her.
Neither advanced age, nor misconduct of any sort, qualifies to extinguish the inalienable right to life. Nothing can justifiy it.
In American historical, legal and political discourse, the term “inalienable right” derives from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, but reviewed, revised and approved—first by a Drafting Committee, consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson himself; and then by the Continental Congress, as a whole:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In other words, for the “United States of America”; God-given, “alienable rights” are, and are declared to be, the foundations of the government and articles of faith among the people.
For purposes of legislation, the North Dakota Senate has declared only the “right to life” to be “inalienable.” However, it is the leap from political principle to legislation, which made the Senate’s action truly amazing. Amazing, but entirely consistent with North Dakota’s abolition of the death penalty in 1973.
In a week (Week of 4 February 2013) that featured the nation’s seeming embrace of death, and the violence associated with killing and with shooting to kill, as the answer to all its problems, a veritable “surge” of support in favor of–
- The “Drones of Death,” in Colin Powell’s memorable phrase;
- US “Death Squads,” hunting and killing supposed enemies of the state everywhere on the planet;
- “Extraordinary renditions,” secret prisons, torture and resulting deaths;
- US courts considering with a straight face, the arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment of US citizens, by military authority without charge or trial; and their detention, following arrest, anywhere on the planet; and,
- L.A.P.D. officers shooting two newspaper delivery women, as they delivered the Los Angeles Times—in a preemptive strike to protect their superiors from possible harm as they slept;
–the North Dakota Senate’s ringing reaffirmation of life over death must be regarded, in the same way Lincoln did the “decisive utterances” against slavery of the workingmen of Manchester, England, namely,
“as an instance of sublime Christian heroism, which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is indeed an energetic and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth, and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom.” [19 January 1863].
A word about “extraordinary rendition.” First, “rendition” itself is a disrespectful reference to Matthew 22:17-21, wherein Jesus is asked his opinion on the legality of Jews paying tribute to Caesar. Jesus responded,
“19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” [King James Version (KJV)].
Though the New International Version (NIV) uses, “give back to” instead of “render“; the originator of the use of “render,” “rendering” or “rendition,” as a synonym for “kidnapping” “secret imprisonment” and “torture,” deserves to be better known. I’m curious myself, as to his or her religious affiliation and background (if any).
Jefferson’s, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time,” may be reconfigured negatively, as follows: Dead men are no men, but neither are slaves and the rest of the unfree.
Though Jesus in John 8:31-47, does not equate, or even directly associate, freedom with life itself; he does however indicate that “slavery” takes many forms—not only chattel slavery. As late as the American Civil War, moreover, “sin” meant far more than sexual immorality, and thus had far more than personal implications.
From John 8:31-47 (NIV):
[Dispute Over Whose Children Jesus’ Opponents Are]
<< 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
[Comment: Was not the Roman occupation a form of slavery? How about debt, malnutrition and chronic illness or disability? Are not these, in their extremes, kinds of slavery, also? Hence, Jesus’ Three-Point Program for Daily Bread; Debt Relief; and Natural, Spontaneous and/or Faith Healing—in a milieu, which can only be described as “radical feminism,” even by today’s standards.]
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
[Comment: Kindly recall the formula of Verses 31-32, above; namely, “holding to my teaching” = “being my disciples” = “knowing the truth” = “the truth setting you free.” Therefore, Jesus by his “teaching,” has set his “disciples” (i.e., everyone holding to his teaching) free.]
37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”
[Comment: Later on, at Verse 56, Jesus is more specific about what Abraham “did”: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”]
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” >>
[Comment: So, Abraham, much less God, had ceased to be the father or Father of Jews seeking to kill Jesus. Instead, their father is the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning—a murderer and a liar, indeed the father of lies, for there is no truth in him.}
Of particular interest, for present purposes, is Jesus’ characterization of the devil as “a murderer.”
The relation between slavery and sin—which is to say, slavery as sin—agitated the anti-slavery crowd, both before and increasingly during, the Civil War. In September 1862, a delegation of Chicago church leaders traveled to Washington, DC, to petition President Lincoln to declare immediate emancipation.
For some reason, the written petition is obscure—at least I’ve never seen it. But
a nearly verbatim account survives of the Chicago delegation’s give-and-take with Lincoln—an account that shows off both Lincoln and the delegation to good advantage.
The Chicagoans eschew legalities, as Lincoln himself claimed to be doing, and concentrate instead on OPPRESSION, which they saw as key:
“…that he [Lincoln] could not deny that the Bible denounced oppression as one of the highest of crimes, and threatened Divine judgments against nations that practice it; that our country had been exceedingly guilty in this respect, both at the North and South; that our just punishment has come by a slaveholder’s rebellion; that the virus of secession is found wherever the virus of slavery extends, and no farther; so that there is the amplest reason for expecting to avert Divine judgments by putting away the sin, and for hoping to remedy the national troubles by striking at their cause.” [The White House, 13 September 1862].
A college student of my acquaintance, who works at the local WalMart, approached me in the parking lot Monday evening to ask my “lawyerly opinion” on extraordinary rendition. Of special interest to him: the report released last week, entitled “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition. Apparently, the US has “rendered” terrorism suspects to some 54 countries for the purpose of torturing them.
Proudly, the student pulled from his back pocket a copy of the US Constitution—well worn; a gift, he said, from his parents; a memento left over from the 1987 Bicentennial of the Constitution. Thumbing the pages to the Fifth Amendment, the student proudly proclaimed the whole scheme an obvious violation of that Fifth Amendment—as indeed, it was and is!
I responded that the student was using a “crime model” of analysis, while the proponents of kidnapping, secret prisons and torture utilized a “war model,” where as they believe, anything goes.
But since those on Cheney’s “Dark Side,” are as unconcerned with international law, as they are with domestic; we (i.e., this student acquaintance and I) should not dwell excessively on legality, either.
Whether drones raining down death mean Murder; whether death squads trampling the globe underfoot are illegal; whether torture is only Torture, when it kills—all of these, regardless of legality, are instances of OPPRESSION, cruelty and often death itself.
The authors of these policies and programs are curiously publicity-shy with respect to their work product. Perhaps they fear exposure, impeachment or both. Let’s give them both, beginning with the unknown author of the “White Paper” on worldwide assassinations. The Senate could determine his name and ask the House to impeach him.
The Senate, in a proper case, has power not only to remove from office, but also to forever bar a man or woman from federal office. [US Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 3, Cl. 7]. If only some of Nixon’s acolytes had been barred from further federal office! This simple act might have spared the country untold travail!
I had to smile at my young friend’s certainty that the Fifth Amendment made easy cases of the policies of extraordinary rendition and targeted assassinations. They are easy cases!
The Constitution is quintessentially a people’s document. It means what we, as private citizens, say it means—not what federal officeholders might have wished that it did say.
To prevail in this contest, we need only recall, and then to hold firm to, the assertions, which began this country’s national existence:
“We HOLD these truths to be self-evident…”