Friday, November 12, 2010

Things I Never Thought I'd Hear a Quaker Say

OK, this is not a long list because, well, this is not a category I've ever given a lot of thought to until this morning when I heard a J.E. McNeil, a Quaker attorney who has served for more than a decade as director of the Center on Conscience and War, was speaking about the legal strategy for creating selective conscientious objection in the U.S. Military, and she said,
"The Second Amendment is my favorite amendment to the Constitution."
That's just not something I ever thought I'd hear a Quaker say.
She went on to explain that the thing about Constitutionally protected rights is that just as we are given a positive right to engage in the protected activity we are given the right not to, as well. Therefore, just as I have a right to bear arms, I also have a Constitutionally protected right not to bear arms.
Indeed, as McNeil explained, Madison's original draft of the Bill of Rights explicitly contained that provision in the Second Amendment, but the Congress rejected it because they feared it would interfere with the well-regulated militia. (Incidentally, this small bit of history gives the lie to the contemporary position that the Framers intended the right to bear arms as an individual one, but that's a story for another day ... and another Supreme Court, alas.)
Madison was willing to make the compromise because he believed that the right of conscientious objection would be subsequently enshrined in the law, but more than 200 years later U.S. law still contains no such provisions.
Our troops are called upon to protect our freedoms, we are told so often, including the freedom of conscience, but they have no such freedom of conscience themselves once they sign up. It really shouldn't take a Quaker to point out the irony, and to do so by way of the Second Amendment, well that deserves an irony medal.

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