This afternoon I delivered the Constitution Day lecture at Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids. The school did an excellent job promoting the event and I was thankful for an opportunity to speak about our founding documents and introduce Acton ideas and thought to law students. Much of my discussion centered upon Calvin Coolidge’s notion that there is a “finality” and rest within our founding principles. When we endeavor to move beyond the principles of our founding; we begin to move backwards not forward. It was Coolidge who said, “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”
Today, we desperately need to recapture the truth that the whole purpose of our Bill of Rights and Constitution is to limit the federal government. As James Madison declared in Federalist #45, “Those powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. In my talk, I stressed the importance of staying faithful to the Constitutional text. My background is theology not constitutional law, but in seminary I was always reminded by my professor Ben Witherington, that “a proof-text without a context, is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.” That is true of our founding documents, just as it is true of Scripture.
Our government exists to protect our natural rights. Coolidge, who was sandwiched between the progressive era and the New Dealers, told Americans something that is just as relevant now as it was then: “The pressing need of the present day is not to change our constitutional rights, but to observe our constitutional rights.” Coolidge and Ronald Reagan probably talked more about the U.S. Constitution than any other 20th century presidents. I concluded my remarks by quoting Ronald Reagan’s 1987 State of the Union Address where he talked about the exceptional nature of our Constitution: (more…)