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Religion Dispatches: Constitutional Progressives Take Critical Fight to Tea Party

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Post by SARAH POSNER

Today, a coalition of progressive groups announced the formation of Constitutional Progressives, an effort to push back against the radical politics of "constitutional conservatives:" the claims, for example, that the Affordable Care Act, or even Social Security, are unconstitutional; that "activist judges" shouldn't decide the constitutionality of legal measures intended to protect the rights of fellow citizens; that birthright citizenship is unconstitutional; that regulation of business is contrary to constitutional principles and "liberty;" and in some extreme cases, that secession may be necessary.

Conservatives are big on touting themselves as "constitutional conservatives," signaling their hostility, in short, to 20th century legislative reforms and jurisprudence and, in some cases, the very purposes of the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution. Ed Kilgore neatly summed up the views of "constitutional conservatives" in a piece about Michele Bachmann's use of the label to describe herself:

[C]onstitutional conservatives think of America as a sort of ruined paradise, bestowed a perfect form of government by its wise Founders but gradually imperiled by the looting impulses of voters and politicians. In their backwards-looking vision, constitutional conservatives like to talk about the inalienable rights conferred by the Founders—not specifically in the Constitution, as a matter of fact, but in the Declaration of Independence, which is frequently and intentionally conflated with the Constitution as the part of the Founders’ design. It’s from the Declaration, for instance, that today’s conservatives derive their belief that “natural rights” (often interpreted to include quasi-absolute property rights or the prerogatives of the traditional family), as well as the “rights of the unborn,” were fundamental to the American political experiment and made immutable by their divine origin.

Constitutional Progressives has produced a blistering video demonstrating how "Constitutional Conservatives love the Constitution – except for the parts they don't:"

Constitutional Progressives is, in the words of Doug Kendall, president of Constitutional Accountability Center, which is spearheading the effort, an antidote to the right's "attempt to weaponize the Constitution for political purposes." The Constitution, said Kendall, "is and should be a document that unites Americans rather than divides us along ideological lines." The group has written The Whole Constitution Pledge for supporters to sign, which affirms that amendments to the Constitution "have improved our Constitution by ending slavery, enshrining guarantees of equality and citizenship, expanding the right to vote, and ensuring that the national government has the power and resources necessary to protect the nation, address national challenges and secure civil rights."

Before the Tea Party, and before "constitutional conservative" became a buzzword, the religious right promoted misinformation about the First Amendment, particularly the Establishment Clause, arguing that the separation of church and state was a "myth" perpetrated by "activist judges." Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People For the American Way Foundation, also part of Constitutional Progressives, said this is remains a critical issue that the coalition will continue to focus on as part of seven Constitutional principles it is promoting: checks and balances, national authority, individual rights, federalism, democracy, liberty and equality, and access to justice.

"There is no greater threat to our values than the tea party’s effort to make America’s progress unconstitutional," said Kendall. "For the first time, progressives now have a coordinated response to this theft of our Nation’s Charter. Building on the momentum of thousands of Americans who have already pledged to support the whole Constitution, progressives are taking the fight to the tea party."