Citizenship—A Sacred Right to Conscience

Like James Madison, I rejoice in acknowledging our Great Parent and Sovereign and the ways in which “…he has blessed the United States with a political constitution founded on the will and authority of the whole people, and guaranteeing to each individual the security, not only of his person and his property, but of those sacred rights of conscience, so essential to his present happiness, and so dear to his future hopes: that with those expressions of devout thankfulness be joined supplications to the same Almighty Power…” (James Madison Presidential Proclamation July 23rd 1813)

Some of the founders referred to freedom of religion as “The Sacred Right of Conscience,” suggesting that it comes from a higher power and cannot be alienated, taken, or separated from us (See the Declaration of Independence).

In 1999 my daughter came home with a school newspaper with a splashy headline that read, “Let’s Talk About Sex.” I began to ask questions about what she was being taught. I was not happy with my observations. I met with the principal about my concerns. It resulted in a lively conversation that sent me on a personal education and public service Odyssey that changed my life forever, which I will explain below in the section “Why get involved?”

The Call to Begin

Like Odysseus, the journey home from Troy has been arduous, challenging and beautifully miraculous. My travels have brought me to the dinner tables of many friends, family, and community members where I have often heard the lament, “Someone needs to do something about this!” 

As citizens of a democratic republic, that someone is you and me. The action we take may be best executed and informed when we have a passion or personal stake in the matter. Pericles, an early Greek politician and general, described the importance of politics this way. “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” Your freedom ends where mine begins. My children, grandchildren, and community and its culture are both my business and my stakes in the matter of politics and citizenry.

Your Life in Politics

Politics… okay, let’s break down the word. Poly equals many, and ticks are blood sucking creatures!

For a time, my wife forbade me to give money to any politician because of her cynical view of the character and integrity of many of them. In an essay written in the spring of 1776, John Adams said: “…the divine science of politics is the science of social happiness…” (John Adams, Thoughts on Government)

Why is it divine? Because it deals with the governance of people with generational consequences. We see that in the preamble of The Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure 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.” If our values are to be reflected in our local governments and communities, then we must rise to the divine call to action armed with those values and affect change as position holders ourselves. Indeed, if your values reflect hers well enough, my wife may be so inclined to contribute to your campaign!

POL’ITICS, n. The science of government; that part of ethics which consists in the regulation and government of a nation or state, for the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; comprehending the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals. Politics, as a science or an art, is a subject of vast extent and importance.

Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828

John Adams also reflected, “How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children.” (The Founders’ Constitution, Vol. 1, Ch. 4, The University of Chicago Press.) This suggests when we vote we have the unique opportunity to change things.

Why get involved?

I had a wise mentor once ask me, What have you done today for your grandchildren? As a young father, I didn’t have any grandchildren at the time. He was trying to get me to think generationally.

We are all parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, etc. We want the best for our families and children. We don’t want them stripped of their innocence, identity, and youth. They deserve to know their identity as children of God, Christians, and citizens of a great and magnanimous country.

Furthermore, “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World). I also believe they are entitled to be educated in the virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness. Our culture is stripping children of their innocence far too early. Children deserve schools that are sanctuaries and a refuge from the cultural cesspools of our day.

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the primary architects of the Federalist Papers, wondered if there was enough virtue in the people for self-government. “Are societies of men really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force?” (Federalist No.1)

The question as postulated by Madison and Hamilton is still applicable, perhaps more than ever, today. Is there enough virtue in the people so they can govern themselves? “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (Federalist No. 51)

In June of 1826 a letter arrived at Monticello from Roger Weightman inviting Thomas Jefferson to a celebration to take place in Washington. Jefferson’s reply was a masterpiece of thought even at the age of 83.

“…all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god.”

Probably like you, I have had some friends and associates recently leave California in favor of residence in another state for a variety of reasons. I am choosing to stay. But to stay, I must be willing to fight the tidal wave of legislation and cultural changes that are ever threatening to destroy faith, family and freedom. That means I need to continue in my commitment to public service. I am inviting you to join me in a way that makes sense for you. 

I want to introduce you to a few principles and reasons to answer the question: Why perform public virtue or citizen service?

  1. The Bully Principle—A bully is a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable. Instead of allowing the bully to move you from your rightful place, commit to stay where you stand; then lift where you stand. As a young lad in the 5th grade, I was ruthlessly bullied by a very assertive and athletic lad. There came a point when I felt I needed to either leave my school or vacate my position on the school safety patrol in order to evade his threats. I decided to stay firm where I stood. That resolute decision, and necessary subsequent actions, ultimately resulted in being respected. In short, I learned to not take counsel from my fears. I also earned a deeper understanding of the saying of The Lord to his disciples to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Matt: 10:16
  2. First Among Equals—We hold a trust for our communities for a brief period. A trustee is a person to whom anything or business is committed, in confidence that he will discharge his duty. A person to whom is confided the management of an institution, as the trustees of a college or of an academy. In other words, it is our stewardship and our duty to serve.
  3. The Authority Principle—The best authority is moral, natural, and positional in that order. Many seek positions of power and talk about how they will serve. The proper sequence is to serve and become a living résumé where your natural abilities reflect your motives to serve others. Then you will likely be asked to serve in a position. At other times you may need to speak up and volunteer when you see a need. That is called servant leadership. 
  4. The Mentor Principle—We all need a mentor who is on higher ground than we are that can coach, lift, guide and inspire us in this journey. Mentors are found in books, friends, churches, businesses, schools, etc. They possess the gift of thoughtful reflection for us. Eventually it is our turn to assume the role of mentor and serve the community that helped us to grow in our literal or figurative youth.

“Religious participation in public life is not only part of American history and a constitutionally protected freedom, it is also good for our nation. All laws and government policies are based on values—religious or otherwise. Everyone has a right to be heard—“to compete”—in the marketplaces of ideas and in influencing governmental decisions. To silence one voice potentially leads to silencing all others.”

D. Todd Christofferson, Freedom: A Cherished Heritage to Defend – BYU Speeches

In his time Winston Churchill suggested, “a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” (Winston Churchill’s October 5, 1938 speech to the House of Commons) Years ago, as I fasted and prayed about my decision to serve, the thought swept over me, How will you one day look God, your grandchildren, and our founding fathers in the eye about what you did for religious freedom in your time? What is worth your life, fortune, and sacred honor? I thank God for “leading me along.”

I watched an old movie this week by Frank Capra Jimmy Stewart movie about public service called “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

It reminded me again of the importance of one voice speaking up. An idealistic young citizen Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) winds up appointed to the United States Senate.  Jefferson Smith says of his deceased father, “Dad always used to say the only causes worth fighting for were the lost causes.”

While our culture and our times present a spectacle of perhaps many “lost causes,” I am determined my posterity and community will not be one of them.

Image credit: Columbia Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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