MOUNT VERNON — At the February Up for Discussion forum, discussion turned to the role of government in issues facing the country today. In turn, the discussion involved the Constitution. One participant said he did not believe people knew the importance of the Constitution, in part because when they had Civics class as students, it was unexciting and they did not see the relevance. Civics, or government, was a required class, a formality, and students were not interested.
Professor William Wantland sees that attitude in some of his students at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
“Some [students] are fairly engaged, others are not, and don’t see it as that important,” he said. “They see it as maybe something someone else should pay attention to.
“The Constitution is important,” he said, “because it’s the framework of our country — the hows, wherefores and whys of our country.
“The Constitution and, in my opinion, the Federalist Papers, are some of the most important documents, but they’re not read — or are not read well — by the people,” said Wantland. “They are out there, and we think we know what they say, but sometimes we are mistaken.”
The Constitution sets forth the powers and limitations of federal government. The 10th Amendment states the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states, or to the people. That issue of states rights has recurred throughout the years, and is still in the forefront of issues today.
“There’s always been tension [between the states and the federal government] ever since the Constitution was ratified in 1787,” said Wantland. “It’s a very gray area, deliberately so, I think, on the part of the Founding Fathers.”
One example of states rights, he said, ended with the Civil War, and a loss of 620,000 lives.
“I think we have shifted … since the Reagan era … toward power in the states,” he said. “But [federal] government is being a little more assertive in these economic times.”
That assertiveness is what concerns many state legislators. As a response, more than 20 states have declared sovereignty or are in the process of doing so. In the state of Washington, House and Senate bills state that many federal mandates are directly in violation of the 10th Amendment. In Missouri, the issue is the regulation of abortion. In Montana, the issue centers on private citizens owning firearms.
Georgia’s bill states “… this measure shall serve as notice and demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of its constitutionally delegated powers.”
The Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package has also prompted concern about federal intervention in states. In Mississippi, for example, legislators are concerned that, in the name of separation of church and state, posters stating “In God we Trust” would have to be removed from the classrooms of public schools if stimulus money was accepted.
Closer to home, Ohio is wrestling with the issue of states’ rights as well. Currently, drivers can be fined for not wearing a seat belt only if he or she is pulled over for another offense. If legislation making a seat belt violation a primary offense — meaning a driver can be pulled over solely on a seat belt violation — is passed, then Ohio is eligible for $26 million in federal highway money. If the legislation does not pass, the money is not available.
One of the catalysts for the American Revolution was a decree by Great Britain that British colonies would be taxed for the purpose of raising revenue. American colonists argued they could not be taxed without representation, and began boycotting British goods.
In 1773, Britain passed the Tea Act — intended to benefit the finances of the East India Company, which was close to collapse because of the high export fees it was paying to the British government — which reduced the tax on tea. However, the colonists did not want any tax at all on their tea, and also did not like the East India Company’s favored status with the British Parliament.
On Dec. 16, 1773, a group of colonists called the Sons of Liberty boarded a ship in Boston Harbor, and dumped 90,000 pounds of tea overboard. The Boston Tea Party thus became a symbol of rebellion against the establishment.
Another comment made at the February Up for Discussion was by a woman who, referring to the amount of governmental intervention in 2009, said she was ready for another tea party. She’s not alone.
In a modern-day backlash to increasing taxes, the bailout of banks and the auto industry, and pork in budget bills, a number of tea party rallies are being held across the United States. A rally is scheduled Sunday at 1 p.m. in Columbus. Protestors plan to meet at the Statehouse and march to Battelle Riverfront Park, where they will dump a symbolic bag of tea.
Beginning today, the News will print portions of the Constitution each day. The excerpts will appear on Page 2 under the heading “We the People.” The next Up for Discussion will be Monday at 7 p.m.