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Civic Engagement, Community Visioning and Public Service Motivation: Upholding the Constitution

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Candi Choi
January 14, 2019

“You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secure; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.” Patrick Henry, Anti-Federalists Papers.

In times of conflict and progress the government and the people can work together and mediate toward a greater cause. Even Federalists and Anti-Federalists found common ground on the premise that liberty was to be protected and preserved. They disagreed on the government’s role in protecting that liberty and both sides disputed the effectiveness of the outcomes, but the foundation was laid. Thus, the society in all its diversity was unified by its cause.

Though Patrick Henry may disagree with the Bill of Rights, one thing indisputable is its fair provision between the government and the people. A right for one person is a right for all. Where the government has power, so do the people. The citizens and the government both have roles in the right to bear arms, enumerated freedoms and limits to government power in favor for rights of the people. Thus, the United States is well-equipped to maintain the constitution and work fairly toward additional common causes.

Today, it seems absurd that the same foundation and cause continues to make its way into daily debates. One would think that our society would have progressed over 200 years. One would think that society would accept the foundation and the country could build upon liberties and rights without impeding upon them. Instead, the country is constantly countering attacks on the constitution. Governments have begun normalizing unfair policies pertaining to personal liberties, like the right to bear arms, as well as applying privilege over their oath to protect those liberties. 

There are various arguments from both the right and the left regarding the 2nd amendment. Many feel that new laws and policies are encroaching on constitutional rights. For example, retired officers who understand the vitally of guns, fear the government impeding on their rights when they no longer serve the government. Thus, policies that limit rights and liberties in the constitution threaten trust in the institution rather than build toward a greater good.

Citizens are expected to uphold the law and abide by the constitution. Unfortunately, the responsibility of elected officials to the constitution at the federal and even state level has delineated. The ability for governments to limit their scope and protect the people’s constitution while developing new sound policies has proved rare. In recent history, the precedent was set during the Affordable Care Act debates. The government shutdown due to no compromise, promises were made to the public and not kept and most importantly the policy lacked fairness in application for the individual mandate fine. It applied to only some of the population; those without employer healthcare. Thus, the government’s privilege was shown favor over the peoples’. 

So, how can people trust that government is doing the right thing? There has to be a willingness to be open to possibilities that are outside one’s own interest, bias or perspective and be objective to the results. If there is no evidence in favor of the assumption, then except that it was wrong and move forward toward the newfound awareness. Pollution is an example. People can maintain their liberty by being responsible stewards of their resources. Some people and businesses pollute daily and show disregard for natural resources and waterways. As such, the government intercedes to influence better behaviors by applying laws to everyone. The initial pollution imposes costs to everyone by affecting natural resources, increasing public resources and taxes and deteriorating the health and well-being of society. The situation incurs costs and disputable reactions about the government’s authority. Thus, people have the most responsibility to uphold their liberties.

The Constitution is a social contract. The founders developed the contract with, “The people,” in mind to ensure common basic liberties were preserved. Individuals held those natural liberties long before the government was established. The Bill of Rights asserted the government’s awareness to the people’s charge for liberty. The justice system allowed for the government to reflect on those rights to better mediate in times of conflict. Laws and regulations that impede upon natural rights and incrementally deteriorate them oppose justice. Officials make a clear commitment to protecting the people’s liberties as a first step in managing societal good. Thus, any new cause is at stake when there is favor for government privileges that impede the agreement made with, “The people.”

Patrick Henry was skeptical of the idea that people would give up any portion of their liberty in favor of a government—so much that he called on others to revere it with jealousy; a term Hamilton disputed in The Federalist Papers Number One. American liberties toe the line for government action. It is essential that, “The people,” maintain responsibility for their liberty because both the government and the people influence one another toward greater a cause. Thus, everyone must maintain responsibility for their role in protecting the constitution and unite one another through a mutual concession of rational fairness.

Author: Candi Choi holds an MPA with specialization in local government management. She has experience with local budgeting, planning and constituent affairs. Her contact email is [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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