Monday, June 15, 2015

Magna Carta and the Law that Governs Government

Mark J. Fitzgibbons

It was a time of abuse of power by the state, high taxes, foreign wars against aggressive, violent Muslims, cronyism, and unrest over civil, commercial and religious rights. Certain similarities between 1215 England and 2015 America are, as our British cousins might say, “delicious.”

Magna Carta is celebrated on June 15, 800 years after its first rendition was forced upon King John at Runnymede. It was John’s brother Richard the Lionheart who raised taxes to pay for the wars. Richard’s brother-successor King John ruled with arrogance, and never achieved the popularity of his brother.

Shortly after affixing his seal to the “Great Charter,” John asked Pope Innocent III to nullify it for being affirmed under duress. The Pope obliged, and in retrospect we should be grateful. Consent is not legitimate when given under duress. The civil war that prompted the Charter ensued. John soon died of excesses, and was succeeded by his nine-year old son Henry.  Magna Carta subsequently became law under young King Henry III… Jesuit political scholar Fr. James Schall recently wrote about the erosion of the spirit of Magna Carta:

At the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta we cannot but be concerned by how much its spirit of limiting rule and providing freedoms and immunities has been eroded. Often this erosion came by using the very words of its provisions, especially those of “rights,” to increase the power of government over citizens, to limit freedom of religion and speech, and to subject citizens to laws and customs much more regimenting than most people in the feudal order might have imagined possible. Any significant relation between natural and common law has been ignored. A written constitution is no longer a real limit on the will of the state. Much of this “development” has been occasioned by legal and intellectual authorities finding what they wanted to find in documents meant to prevent such arbitrary use of power. In many ways, the Magna Carta stands not as a foundation of free government, but as a witness to what happens when its spirit and provisions are ignored or interpreted out of existence.

From 1215 to 2015, we see the nature of government power to violate rights by violating the rule of law. Long live Magna Carta and the law that governs government..... To Read More...


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