11 May “We the Families”
May 10, 2011
“We the Families”
“We the People” or should the U.S. Constitution more aptly read: “We the Families”? It’s an interesting question. Tom Christensen once again shares his wisdom and his insights on the importance of family. Although Tom’s commentary is directed at the U.S. and its constitution, his insights have application to all countries of the world. Stable families = strong nations. We ignore that fact at our peril. His analysis is something that you’ll want to read and share with others.
When explaining the essential link between stable families and strong nations, I was asked once why the family is not protected in the United States Constitution. My response was the founders probably never imagined that a large number of people in future generations would turn their backs on, or openly oppose, the family. They probably did not see a need to defend the longest established, most universally accepted social institution in human history. Unfortunately, we have drifted a long way since our highest court declared that the family “springing from the lifelong union of a man and woman…is the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization” (Murphy v. Ramsey, 1888).
John Adams called it “virtuous citizenship”–liberty and self-government anchored upon individual acceptance of higher, immutable laws. He, and the other founders, understood that liberty must be tempered by moral restraint, best learned and exemplified in the home. The family provides a loving, nurturing environment in which free people acquire the attributes and personal virtues necessary to maintain a stable economy and limited government. “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion,” Adams wrote in a 1798 private correspondence. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is totally inadequate for the governance of any other.”
Of course, American government is a secular government that cannot develop a virtuous, law-abiding people on its own. In the home, individuals learn the character traits of good citizenship. Superior to any other civil institution, the traditional family teaches thrift, work, and industry; transmits moral and cultural values; and curbs selfish or destructive impulses. Schools that focus on character as well as the mind are more successful than those that don’t, but even these cannot fully replace the daily training of devoted parents. Likewise, churches, mosques, and synagogues may teach moral standards, but the home is the sacred place where moral values are learned, practiced, modeled and reinforced.
The pre-eminent role of the family is spelled out clearly in early international documents. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the founding document of the UN, acknowledges the traditional family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society.” The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) states that the family is entitled to “the widest possible protection and assistance.”
Returning to the original question (“Why is the family not protected in the Constitution?”), I recommend a thorough examination of the preamble to the Constitution. Rather than starting with the qualifier, “We the people,” I suggest a more apt clause is “We the families” for the family is, as Washington put it, an “indispensable support” of good government. For example, families “promote the general welfare” by servicing the temporal, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals (contrast the cost to the public and effectiveness of government social programs and entitlements with the services provided at no cost by families). Peaceful, loving homes “insure domestic tranquility.” Parents first “establish justice” by enforcing family rules, responsibilities, and consequences. Families “provide for the common defense” by inspiring patriotism and providing honorable and disciplined military recruits. Tempered by moral restraint, families “secure the blessings of liberty” for “ourselves and our posterity” (including the unborn). More perfect families, in short, “form a more perfect union.”
Enlightened jurists and lawmakers recognize that the family predates the government, and, is in fact, superior to it in its capacity to create, nurture, mentor, organize, and sustain human life. The family enhances the complex human interactions that characterize civilization. Successful governments promote an economic climate where the family can prosper, protect religious freedom, honor the traditional family especially in the schools, and protect the natural rights and responsibilities that sustain it, namely, marriage, childbearing, and parenting.
For centuries, in virtually every civilized society, government has protected the rights of men and women to marry and procreate and has enforced the duty of parents to care for their offspring. Good government stigmatizes the serial abuse, abandonment, or destruction of spouse or offspring. Honoring the family, resisting the impulse to always rescue or replace it, and upholding the natural laws, obligations, and institutions that sustain it, remains the best hope for maintaining the lofty objectives of the Constitution and healing a troubled world.
About the Author: Tom Christensen and his wife of 28 years, Dixy, reside in South Jordan, Utah where they are successfully raising their last ten of fifteen children. Christensen, who served for five years as CEO of United Families, lead delegations and spoke at UN conferences in New York, Nairobi, the Hague, Lisbon and Geneva, and published several articles on family policy. Christensen was featured in the front page Deseret News series, “Utahns Making a Difference Abroad,” and received in Budapest in behalf of United Families, the “Family and Peace Award” from the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations.