by Richard Land
Today is “Constitution Day,” the day when the nation commemorates the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, on September 17, 1787.
The Constitution was sent out to the states, and having been ratified by the required number of states on June 21, 1788, became the founding document of the new United States of America, replacing the insufficient “Articles of Confederation.”
The constitution’s “preamble” aptly sums up its purpose: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The nation’s first president, George Washington, was inaugurated April 30, 1789, and on June 8 of that year James Madison introduced proposed “Bill of Rights” amendments to the Constitution in the new nation’s first elected House of Representatives. What we know as the “Bill of Rights,” or the first 10 amendments for the Constitution, were 10 of Madison’s proposed amendments which were ratified by the required number of states and became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791.
Why is all of this relevant to a debate on Confederate memorials? Any debate on that emotion-laden, hot button issue must be guided and directed by constitutional principles and dictated by the rule of law predicated on those principles.
So what to do about public monuments to leaders and heroes of the Confederacy? In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I have direct ancestors who fought on both sides in the Civil War (a by-product of having a mother from Boston and a father from Texas whose families both immigrated to America before it became an independent nation).
While I respect the deep devotion that many people have to their ancestors who often fought valiantly for the Confederacy, it must be acknowledged that they were fighting for a proposed nation that guaranteed the perpetual right to own slaves in its founding document. So whether they were personally slaveholders or not, and whether they supported the institution of slavery or not, they were in fact fighting for the independence of a nation that supported slavery in perpetuity. Also, they did participate in armed rebellion against the government of the United States.
It must also be acknowledged that when these statues and memorials were erected and installed in public places, they were put there without the advice or consent of the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who lived in these various towns, cities, and states, because they were systematically, forcefully and often violently deprived of any political voice through Jim Crow segregation.
Acknowledging these indisputable historical facts, the only constructive way to proceed with debates about the continued presence of Confederate memorials on public property is to first and foremost declare our undiminished and unshakeable allegiance to the rule of law. Mob violence and vigilantism, which seek to take the law into their own hands and act as judge, jury and executioner, must be rejected. The vandalism and violence that accompany such efforts must be resisted and punished to the fullest extent of the law both by police and legal authorities.
Nothing less than the rule of law itself is at stake here. If we as citizens let mobs take the law into their own hands, the forces of anarchy and mob rule that are always present just below the surface in society will be emboldened. When that happens, violence will spread and all Americans of every political persuasion will see their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms imperiled and weakened.
So what do we do? Having made it clear that we will not tolerate mob violence, we should have a full debate concerning the issues raised by the Confederate memorials and agree that if the majority in a particular locale where the monument resides decide that the statues should be removed to a museum or some private venue, then that should be done. At the very least, the elected representatives of the people (municipal, county, state and federal) in whose jurisdiction the monument resides should make the decision in full public view with maximum input from their constituencies.
Personally, I have no problem with removing the Confederate monuments if the various public constituency majorities believe they should be removed. The one exception I would make personally would be memorials on battlefields like Gettysburg (analogous to museums, the outdoor version) and memorials within the confines of cemeteries, which I would consider hallowed ground.
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SOURCE: Christian Post
Dr. Richard Land is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, a non-denominational seminary based in Charlotte, NC which offers first-rate educational programs in evangelism and classic apologetics. In addition to his presidency, Dr. Land also teaches courses at the Seminary. Prior to becoming president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, Dr. Land served for twenty-five years as the president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.