The Right and Duty to Change the Government
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: signs (press), speaking (speech), marches (assembly). Any attempt to “infringe” on these rights, including religion, is blatantly unconstitutional and un-American.
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 and authority. 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 Congressional 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.
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 according to the Tenth Amendment: “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 respond to 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.
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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.
Protests, tea parties, putting politicians and their policies on electoral notice, 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 over the Tea Party movement. It’s time that we read the Constitution and throw it back in their faces, metaphorically speaking, of course.