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The RIGHT to Petition the Government

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Sen. Barbara Boxer claims that “Well-dressed” protesters at Town Hall meetings are out to “hurt our president.” House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi claims protesters are “carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on healthcare.” A DNC attack ad calls those who oppose latest round of legislative agenda “angry mobs” and “extremists.” The President is calling on people to forward emails to the White House that are critical of his policies. “Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to [email protected].” Can anyone say “Gestapo”? Liberals are the only ones permitted to protest governmental policies, because, of course, they’re right! This same argument was used in the 1960s by Leftists who believed that bombing buildings was a righteous act. Once Leftists get in power, they shut the door behind them and deny access to all critics.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states as clearly as it can that the people have the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Wrapped up in this Constitutional right are additional rights regarding speech, press, and assembly. It’s a package deal. We can petition in several ways without hindrance. Any attempt to “infringe” on these rights, including religion, is blatantly unconstitutional.

As a side note, for Christians who claim they must remain silent when government acts, keep in mind that the Constitution, our “Caesar” (Matt. 22:21), gives us the right and duty to question its decisions. The President of the United States took an oath before God to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” At the start of each new Congress, in January of every odd-numbered year, those newly elected or re-elected Congressmen—the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate—must recite an oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

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There is no violation of Romans 13:1–7 to petition any elected official because what is “due them” (v. 7) is found in the Constitution, a Constitution they took an oath to “support and defend.” The Constitution was designed by “We the People.” The Constitution is not designed for their protection but for ours. The powers of the President, Congress, and the Courts are limited: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In Book 1, Chapter 1 of Blackstone’s Commentaries the point is made that “every individual” has “the right of petitioning the king, or either house of parliament, for the redress of grievance.” Eleven years later, the Declaration of Independence listed King George’s failure to redress the grievances listed in colonial petitions, such as the Olive Branch Petition of 1775, as a legal justification to declare independence:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

As far back as Magna Carta (1215) and the later Bill of Rights 1689, which explicitly declared the "right of the subjects to petition the king,” the people had a fundamental right to make their grievances known to those holding civil office. The provision in the First Amendment was put to the test over the issue of slavery:

The right of petition recognized by the First Amendment first came into prominence in the early 1830’s, when petitions against slavery in the District of Columbia began flowing into Congress in a constantly increasing stream, which reached its climax in the winter of 1835. Finally on January 28, 1840, the House adopted as a standing rule: '”That no petition, memorial, resolution, or other paper praying the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or any State or Territories of the United States in which it now exists, shall be received by this House, or entertained in any way whatever.” Because of efforts of John Quincy Adams, this rule was repealed five years later

Can you imagine what would have happened if Congress had taken these petitions seriously? America could have averted a bloody civil war and an increase in federal power that we are living with today.

Protests, tea parties, and packing Town Hall meetings to ask questions and voice grievances about legislative policies are fundamental freedoms that go back nearly 800 years. The Constitution codifies these freedoms. Of course, if our elected officials don’t read the bills they vote on, what makes us think they’ve read the Constitution? And even if they have read the Constitution, what makes us think they care what it says? The Constitution is a prop to keep the people in check—until they read it. I’m surprised that almost nothing has been said about the First Amendment in this debate. It’s time that we read the Constitution and throw it back in their faces.

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