Kansas Press Association
Dec. 15, 2015 is the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
If you would, play along with me with the following assumption:
You’ve been asked to sit on a blue ribbon commission that will take a fresh look at those first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Your assignment? Before the 225th anniversary in 2016, you and your fellow panel members are to determine which of those individual rights you will continue to guarantee, and which ones you will choose to alter in some way or even cast aside. The commission’s decisions will guide our nation for the next two centuries.
The panel will be composed of conservatives, moderates and liberals, divided as equally as humanly possible so the entire spectrum of political beliefs will be represented.
Consequently, you’ll be sitting down around a table with men and women who don’t necessarily think like you do. You’ll have to balance the rights of those you agree with wholeheartedly with those you have previously said you could not stomach.
As difficult as it might appear to be, you’ll have to engage in significant give and take if you and your fellow commission members are to come to an agreement.
There is one stipulation, however: failure to achieve consensus will not be an option. In fact, if you fail to reach agreement, all those individual rights we Americans have come to cherish will be gone. No more freedom of speech … no more right to a fair trial … no more freedom from unreasonable searches … no more freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances … no more right to bear arms.
Would you accept the assignment? And would you be able to incorporate the views of others as well as your own into the final product?
With all the issues swirling around today involving gun rights, whether our nation can tolerate the religious convictions of others, overcrowded prisons, terrorism, immigration and the like, your assignment will not be an easy one.
But there is hope. More than 225 years ago, those with conflicting views on which direction our nation should take did, after passionate debate, reach agreement. Some didn’t want individual liberties spelled out in the Constitution; others wanted far more freedoms than were agreed upon. Some didn’t want a strong central government; others demanded it. In the end, they narrowed 20 subjects to a Top 10 list of sorts.
They worked through their differences by sitting down together, a practice we have all but abandoned today.
Far too many of us — liberals, conservatives and moderates alike — have chosen to listen to only with those who think, look and talk like we do. In Kansas, in fact, we can’t even be seen together without consequences.
So let’s return to your assignment. Still want it? Think you can give a little on your end to reach consensus in a room filled with divergent ideas?
Winston Churchill is said to have quoted a predecessor this way: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time …”
If that is still true, and surely it is, don’t you think it is worth preserving, even if we don’t get our way on every point?
Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association in Topeka.
Bill of rights: what individual rights would you guarantee today?