Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Citizenship And The Consent Of The Governed - Thoughts Upon Approaching A New Year

A 1970 recording by The 5th Dimension made it easy to memorize these words from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident...
- that all men are created equal
- that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights
- that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
- that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

The problem with memorizing all that is that when you wind up carrying it around inside you, it messes with your head..."the consent of the governed."


Tonight, I am asking myself, "Is there any government action that I will *not* consent to in 2015?"

This train of thought was triggered by learning about a U.S. Supreme Court case, Heien v. North Carolina. A driver was pulled over for having only one working brake light, and a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed cocaine, which led to prosecution. The problem: in NC, having one working brake light is perfectly legal. The question of the case was, since there was no legal reason to pull the driver over in the first place, was the search a violation of the 4th Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure? On Dec. 15, SCOTUS ruled that because the officer made a "reasonable" mistake in pulling Heien over, the stop was lawful.

Some observers view this as chipping away at the 4th Amendment, but even at that, the question remains, "Would there have been a search if Mr. Heien had not consented?' Or better yet, "Why did Mr. Heien consent to the search?"

I suspect he consented for the same reason that I might have. I grew up learning that good citizenship is mainly about obeying the law. In part, that means doing what law enforcement officials tell you to do, and letting them do what they ask to do.

Too slowly and too late, it is finally sinking in that good citizenship may not be mainly about obeying the law; it may be mainly about making sure that government obeys the law. And sometimes that will mean withholding consent.

I have likely consented too often, for too long, to too much - if only by my silence. Being a LegalShield member provides a basic starting point for changing that, in the specific circumstance of a traffic stop: I intend to consent to nothing until I have an attorney from my law firm on the phone.

Given what can happen with traffic stops, that is no small thing.

Beyond that, however, changing direction - or in Biblical parlance, repenting - will not be easy. But learning to withhold my consent might be easier if I were part of a community in which there was a consensus to do so; a consensus to dissent. My preference would be to have that be a community of faith; it seems reasonable to me that people who believe Jesus to be the supreme authority would be inclined to challenge all authorities that operate in ways contrary to His.

I could seek that community of faith by visiting nearby churches; but the centerpiece of institutional church - the Sunday morning worship service - is so far from the life I'm after that I can't imagine finding it there.

Meanwhile, my rudimentary efforts at being a more responsible and effective citizen keep landing me in the company of smart atheists who care about justice. I can't help but enjoy their company, God love 'em, but I don't think they're the ones I need to be with for the conversations I need most - conversations that help me to move forward in fulfilling my dual citizenship (which includes deciding what I will not consent to).

Somehow, in 2015, I must have those conversations.

Which I think means that I must start them. 
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