“… it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.” — James Madison (Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 1785, The American Republic)
Experimenting with Freedom
When it came to tinkering or “experimenting” with our liberty, Madison was very clear – we should be alarmed at the first sign of it. Following the above quote, Madison continued:
“We hold this prudent jealously to be the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all of the consequences in the principle and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much to soon forget it.”
These brief comments are absolutely loaded with wisdom. It is our first duty to jealously protect liberty. We should not “wait to see” if encroachments upon liberty will be harmful, for by then they will have established precedent. Precedent is not proof of legitimacy, but Madison knew that once a practice has been exercised and precedent set, it is more difficult to uproot.
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Experimenting with Religious Liberty
The strategy of setting precedent is exactly what happened to Iowans (and citizens nationwide) regarding the marriage issue. The Iowa Supreme Court experimented with religious liberty by declaring same-sex marriage valid, usurped the legislature and “legislated” that county clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Because neither the executive nor legislative leadership took alarm and revolted against this ungodly principle, the practice of homosexual marriage has been strengthened by exercise and entangled in the question of precedent. Some of the people saw the consequences, but the numbers were not sufficient to reverse the momentum.
Now we see religious liberty being denied and dangerous precedents continue.We should have been alarmed in 1954 when the Johnson Amendment was added to the 501 (c) (3) section of the IRS code. This was and is an unconstitutional infringement of the freedom of speech and religion guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. But because the alarm was not sounded, the lie has been perpetuated and most Christians believe they cannot and should not exercise influence regarding political issues.
Experimenting with the Second Amendment
The same thing has happened regarding the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment states this right shall not be infringed. Yet when we submit to extraconstitutional laws permitting what the Constitution already permits, we have infringed upon the right and essentially nullified the Second Amendment in favor of another law. Once this practice is strengthened by exercise and precedent, it becomes difficult to reverse. We have seen progress in reversing this infringement with some states passing Constitutional Carry laws, which eliminate “permits” to carry arms, but the battle continues.
Why the Lack of Alarm?
The same-sex marriage issue and the right to bear arms are just two of many examples where we have failed to be sufficiently alarmed “at the first experiment on our liberties.” This is due to a lack of good principles, in the population and in those in government, by which bad principle can be discerned and counteracted.
As Madison pointed out, the freemen of America saw the consequences of [bad] principle and avoided those consequences by denying the principle. Today, there are many things that should cause us great alarm. But we must certainly be alarmed at the lack of knowledge. We must equip the people with the knowledge held by our founders which was based in the eternal principles found in the Word of God.