An American’s Rights and Responsibilities Under the Constitution

By Erin Doherty,
10th grade – New Testament School Cedarville

“We the People.”

These words are familiar enough to the average American. To some, these words bring to remembrance the long-ago act of memorizing the preamble to the Constitution in their high school days. These citizens fell comfortably secure in hearing these words, knowing that it is an all-American phrase.

To others, the clause “We the people” stirs up an intense emotional feeling of patriotic pride, the sort of feeling one gets while hearing the national anthem sung before a ball game or while watching the stars and stripes flutter softly in the breeze.

But do we understand what “We the people” really involves? Do we realize what rights we possess as Americans? Can we comprehend the vast amount of power as well as the responsibility that each citizen, male or female, young or old, wealthy or poor, regardless of race, is entitled to? I fear most do not.

We live in a day when we often forget to vote until on the way home from work, and then, because we failed ahead of time to read up on each individual candidate, we resort to voting for the candidate whose name sounds the most familiar. We live in a time in which, out of disrespect to their country, people burn the American flag out of rebellion. We live in an age in which people dread receiving jury duty, knowing that it will upset their daily routine. Have such attitudes always been prevalent among Americans? Most certainly not.

In 1787, when the Constitution was ratified, our nation had quite a different structure than what we know today. Stripped of all forms of bureaucracy, red tape, needless taxation, false gimmicks of politicians, and all of the other unattractive sides of politics, the government was a fledgling institution, just beginning to take its first steps. The citizens of America were extremely anxious to get their hands on copies of the Constitution, and before long many could recite parts, if not the whole, of this important document.

It was no news to them that they were possessors of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for they had been trained in that belief as children, and were proceeding to raise up their children in the same way. They realized that the government was a creation of the people and, therefore, was subject to alteration or abolishment if need be. The citizens of America were an intelligent people that understood the value of freedom and were willing to pay any price, including death, as Patrick Henry had bluntly stated in 1775, to preserve their precious jewel of liberty.

When did today’s pervasive attitudes of ignorance and apathy begin to permeate society? They came gradually, as certain key events over the years portrayed the dampening of the same eminent flame of patriotic watchfulness of the people.

  • In 1895, the Supreme Court decided that the power of the jury would be lessened. No longer would the jury be able to determine both law and fact in the case, but was restricted to simply deciding if the suspect was innocent or guilty.
  • In 1933, President Roosevelt took our country off the gold standard, allowing the federal government to usurp power over the economy that it did not rightfully possess by slowly infiltrating fiat money, beginning a wave of inflation and whose break on the economic shore will be felt in the next few years.
  • In 1962, prayer in the classroom of a public school was prohibited and conflicts of a public school was prohibited, and conflicts over separation of church and state have been regularly increasing ever since.
  • In 1988, it became a widely-spread practice to voice one’s rebellious feelings toward the American government by “burning the flag,” an act which, I believe, mirrors internal treasonous attitudes. Events such as these have caused us to lose sight, first of all, of the true interpretation of what the Constitution really means and, secondly, of what we are required as citizens.

When immigrants to the United States apply for citizenship, they must thoroughly study the Constitution and take a test to prove that they understand the philosophy behind the words and that they are willing to accept the responsibility of being an American. Ironically, many high schools and college seniors are graduating today without being able to remember if the words “We the people” are from the Preamble to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or the Mayflower Compact!

Even more frightening is the fact that some people don’t even know how many Amendments there are, as I discovered while talking to one of my state senators last year on a class field trip. When questioning a district attorney who visited my civics class last year, I was shocked to hear that in some law schools today students specializing in that field are graduating without having studied a line of the Constitution.

These situations exemplify the vast number of people across the country who are not properly informed about the Constitution. “We the people” have a job to do, and an important one at that. The epitome of an American citizen’s responsibility, I believe, is to constantly keep a vigil over what is happening in government. In order to preserve our republic, it is crucial for us to be alert as to what Congress is doing.

Are our taxes skyrocketing? Well, where is our money going? Are our leaders proposing economic plans and interposing government monopolies, as well as printing endless quantities of fiat money without one cent of intrinsic value? Our Constitution is designed in such a way as to easily enable us to keep a system of checks and balances over those whom we have placed in authority.

In contrast to England’s Bill of Rights, which gave instance after instance of things which the government was prohibited from doing, our Constitution simply lists precisely what our government can do. Anything outside of what is expressly granted as a power of Congress, Congress is forbidden to do. If we are familiar with these powers and keep informed about what is going on in government, we can step in immediately when we see someone go too far.

Another important aspect of checking up on our leaders is through our vote. The 26th Amendment of the Constitution states that “the right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.” What was once regarded as a sacred inviolable right by our predecessors is now taken for granted or is considered an inconvenience.

Besides these responsibilities given to the people of America in the Constitution, our rights are also expressed and clarified. A right denotes responsibility, too, though. We possess the unalienable right” of liberty, but if we act foolishly and abuse it, we are sure to lose it. We were entitled to “the right to bear arms” (in the Second Amendment), but because the irresponsibility of murderous individuals, advocates of gun control are springing up everywhere.

The First Amendment explains our freedom of speech and of the press, and yet again some go to an extreme, claiming that the freedom of our actions, such as committing obscene acts on stage during a rock concert, are the same thing as free speech. People continually push the limit to see how far they can go.

“We the people” must change. We need to begin to teach our children the rudiments of our Constitution and encourage them to study the history of America. If we learn the lessons of the past, we will be safer from repeating mistakes.

As Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” As we agree to accept responsibility and become willing to be accountable for our actions, we will be taking steps in the right direction of forming “a more perfect union.”

If we fail to mend our ways, our republic is headed for destruction. Yet, if we learn to guard our rights and preserve the foundations of freedom in this nation, we shall “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Paul Jehle, director of the Heritage Institute and founder of New Testament School, Cedarville, Massachusetts, has worked for the past 10 years in Central and South America and the United States teaching the “principle approach” to education – a biblical alternative to the public school curriculum. If you would like more information on Paul Jehle and the New Testament School of Cedarville, please write:

Paul & Charlene Jehle
Heritage Institute
P.O. Box 1353
Buzzards Bay, MA 02532

1 Comment

Isn’t this just stating what rights we don’t have?

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