As the gun control debate rages on, our nation finds itself at a most critical juncture. While some passionately cry out the merit of such a proposal, others resolutely declare that this is an infringement on our Second Amendment right. Today… the right to bear arms. Tomorrow… the right of free speech. The day after… perhaps human rights.
Whenever legislation is proposed to enact a new law or to amend an existing one, there is a phrase which is repeatedly heard: “Founding Fathers.” Is this legislation in line with what our founding fathers envisioned for this nation, or not? Clearly, inherent in this question is the premise that they had a better concept of how our nation should be run than we.
For the sake of intellectual integrity, a question or two might be in order. Did our Founding Fathers have a fraction of the scientific knowledge that we do? Could they have dreamt in their wildest dreams about sending man to the moon? Did they have even an inkling of how to safely cure an infection? (It is interesting to note that George Washington died after a bloodletting procedure.) Did they know how to produce automobiles? Air travel? Computers? Skyscrapers? Modern-day plumbing? The list goes on.
Of course the argument can be made that although great strides have been made in science and technology, the basic ideological fundamentals of this nation have remained absolute throughout our history. Let us briefly examine if this is in fact so.
In the year 1776, Thomas Jefferson, together with 56 of our “Founding Fathers,” drew up and signed the Declaration of Independence. Therein it states “[t]hat all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Surely the reader is aware that paradoxically (or perhaps hypocritically?) until the Emancipation Proclamation in the late 1800s, slavery of Blacks was the accepted norm. Apparently our Founding Fathers must not have considered Blacks as men who were created equal, who are endowed by their Creator with those unalienable rights.
Let us move along. Was it not until the year 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited state and federal agencies from gender-based restrictions on voting, was first ratified? Once again it would seem that our Founding Fathers must not have considered women as people who were created equal, who are endowed by their Creator with those unalienable rights.
This should lead the open-minded thinker to ask a most compelling question: Of what relevance is what our Founding Fathers envisioned? Clearly we consider ourselves to be far superior to them in virtually every area of wisdom, yet whenever a critical issue which involves changing the status quo in some way or other arises, we claim to unequivocally defer to them.
Arguably, the answer is: “You’re right!” It is nevertheless crucial to assert that we are going in the spirit of the Founding Fathers, for as soon as we admit that we are not, a huge vacuum would then be created in deciding what the proper way is. This would open the door for ideas such as communism, socialism, even fascism, to be considered as viable options. This, of course, would — G-d-forbid — lead the country into absolute chaos and anarchy. In short, we are humans, and they were humans. We are fallible, and so were they. Our question of what our Founding Fathers had in mind is not one motivated by a concerted quest for truth; it is merely a way of protecting the way of life to which we have become accustomed.
A fair question the open-minded thinker might ask, though, might be: What about our real “Founding Father”? The One Who clearly created the entire universe with infinite wisdom? Are we asking ourselves what His intention was (and is) for Creation? Are we permitting our vision of what our Founding Father wants to be distorted by our personal desires and inclinations? I leave you to ponder the question.
Rabbi Reischer is a Rebbi in Yeshivas Kochav Yitzchak in Baltimore, Maryland.