Understanding exactly what the Constitution stands for is crucial 

I salute the Republicans of the 112th Congress for their initiative to restore the U.S. Constitution to its legitimate place of prominence in our public discourse.

Reading it aloud at Congress’ opening session and requiring members to cite constitutional authority when introducing new legislation are great ideas.

It will help highlight that the real debate is about the underlying defining principles of our nation that the constitution exists to protect.

The Constitution is our operating manual defining the functions and bounds of our federal government. It was meticulously designed by our founders so that we would have government consistent with the values and principles of our nation.

It’s in those values and principles where our “eternal truths” lie. Not in the constitution constructed to secure them. If the drafters didn’t see it this way, they wouldn’t have provided provisions to amend and change it.

The purpose of government, stated in the Declaration of Independence, is to “secure” our “Rights”, including those of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

But how can we understand and use our constitution if we can’t agree on what “life” is or what “liberty” is?

Consider one of the most repugnant decisions to ever emerge from the U.S. Supreme Court — the Dred Scott decision.

The decision relegated blacks to subhuman status and precluded the possibility that they could be considered US citizens protected by the constitution.

The issue was not whether the constitution was taken seriously. The issue was how prevailing values dictated understanding of who people and citizens are. And so, per our Supreme Court in 1857, a class of human beings in our country was relegated to chattel.

Supposedly among the truths that our constitution secures is our right to our private property.

But what can that possibly mean if the federal government can define what health insurance is and force under law every American citizen to buy it?

It is a strange understanding of “life” and “liberty” that will allow this to occur. If government can dictate to this extent how I live and what I do, I begin to feel like they own me. I start feeling like Dred Scott must have felt.

So, yes, let’s put the spotlight back on our Constitution. But let’s not lose perspective that our understanding and interpretation of it will be just as good as our agreement on and understanding and appreciation of the underlying values it’s there to secure and protect.

Star Parker is an author and president of CURE, Center on Urban Renewal and Education.

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