The English Bill of Rights of 1689, states, “… it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.”
A century later and half a world away, our founders penned the Declaration of Independence. That document reads in part, “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”
Those American patriots had been raised under the rules of the 1689 Bill of Rights. They knew that as subjects of the king, they had an inalienable right to confront their government with perceived wrongs and to demand remedy.
Settling into the new nation they had wrenched from the British monarchy, the leaders of the fledgling democracy recognized that the Constitution they had so carefully drafted was incomplete. As such, our own Bill of Rights was added.
First among these new amendments were the most important guarantees ever set down, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That noble tradition remains alive and well in the modern United States. It is our right as citizens to say what we feel, to worship as we choose — without theocratic fetter, to gather as we will and to demand answers of our government when we deem it necessary.
With these powerful rights, comes an equally great responsibility. Unfortunately, there are many in our midst who have recently chosen to petition our government, not for legitimate redress, but for the sake of sophomoric nose-thumbing.
In particular, tens of thousands of citizens across 19 states have signed petitions asking the federal government for the right of their respective states to secede from the national union. They have done so, largely as sour grapes over the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Somehow, telling these childish whiners to simply “grow up” fails to capture the disrespect their petitions represent. It is antithetical to the core spirit of our democracy to advocate secession because an election didn’t go the way you thought it should.
Even so, the White House has launched a petition site called “We the People: Your Voice in Our Government” where anyone can draft a petition and collect signatures for delivery to the federal government. The website states, “…individuals can create and sign petitions that call for action by the federal government on a range of issues facing our nation. For each topic included in We the People, users can petition the Administration to address a problem, support or oppose a proposal, or otherwise change or continue federal government policy or actions.”
When people ask the government for trite, treasonous or disrespectful things, they dishonor the sacrifices of those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. Even so, just a quick glance at some of the current petitions shows that disrespect is no bar to every fool having his say.
A sampling of current petitions includes those asking that: Duncan Trussell be made emperor of the planet Earth; the government outlaw offending prophets of major religions; to recount the election; to support labeling of all genetically engineered foods; legalize and tax marijuana; to free a variety of prisoners, foreign and domestic; to support innumerable charities; and finally — to deport all those persons who signed petitions asking to secede from the union.
Maybe some of these causes are indeed noble and worthy of support. Likely, some are. Unfortunately, when malcontented sore losers use the forum as a sounding board for empty rhetoric it sullies the whole enterprise. Maybe we should let them secede… and help them relocate — to Antarctica.