Saturday, October 29, 2011
I just received the fifth quiz for the Scottish Rite's Master Craftsman II program in the mail yesterday. Quiz five covers the fifteenth through the eighteenth degrees. By coincidence, those degrees will be performed this afternoon by the Des Moines Scottish Rite as part of the Fall Reunion honoring Ellis E. Monk.
The Fifteenth degree was one of my favorite degrees when I was a candidate, and this time around I have a part with just a few lines in the degree. To me, it isn't a small part, however. My good friend and past Master of Operative Lodge #308 had this part. Steve, I'll be thinking of you this afternoon.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Master Craftsman Two program was developed by the Scottish Rite to encourage further study of the Scottish Rite degrees. It differs significantly from Master Craftsman One, primarily in the essay requirement. As a high school social studies teacher, I've always been a huge fan of essay tests, and I'm even more so after my experience this past summer. I was fortunate to have been an Advanced Placement (AP) reader for the College Board's AP Government and Politics: US course. As a reader, I worked with a group of eight others in scoring over 250,000 essay tests written by high school students who completed the AP class at their individual schools in May. The College Board hires approximately 700 high school teachers and college professors to read and score these quarter of a million essays. After a day of training on specific questions, we read for seven days, approximately eight hours a day. Admittedly, you have to enjoy your subject and enjoy reading high school student's writing, but I had a great time; it didn't hurt that the reading was in Daytona Beach and that I had a chance to visit a Lodge there! I plan to return next summer.
In any case, here is my most recent rough draft for the MC2 quiz over the 13th degree:
The dictionary defines keystone as the central supporting piece of a larger structure. In the context of this essay, the U.S. Constitution functions as a keystone to the extent that it provides the support necessary to maintain our liberties within the framework of our political system. This framework includes both our three branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, as well as legal protections including the right to trial by jury first guaranteed by Magna Carta in 1215. Pike summarizes this arrangement in Morals and Dogma: “…an independent judiciary, an elective legislature of two branches, an executive responsible to the people, and the right to trial by jury…” While the U.S. Constitution is a political document developed through a political process, it performs a significant and nonpartisan role in American democracy.
The claim that our Constitution is the central point to protecting the rights and liberties of the people is a common one, but the warrant for that claim is often ignored. Many countries have constitutions, in fact, even the former Soviet Union had a constitution, yet one would hardly argue that Soviet citizens enjoyed the same political freedoms as Americans! The explanation of the relationship between our Constitution and its power to secure our liberties is found in the classic U.S. Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison, just sixteen years after the Constitution was created. In Marbury v. Madison, the Court ruled that a law passed by an elected legislature, the U.S. Congress, violated the Constitution and was thus invalid. This power of the judicial branch to overrule the legislative branch is called judicial review, and while the power is merely implied in the Constitution, the Federalist papers, a series of newspaper columns written by Madison and other framers in support of the new Constitution, contain arguments explaining how judicial review protects the minority from the “tyranny of the majority.” Marbury v. Madison established the Constitution as the fundamental law of the land, and an independent judiciary served to safeguard our liberties, even those liberties of a political minority, as written in that fundamental law. To some extent, Marbury v. Madison can be seen as the keystone to the concept of the protection of our liberties which Pike discusses.
In Morals and Dogma, Pike uses a metaphor to further explain the unique nature of the U.S. Constitution: he compares it to the Ark of the Covenant. Like most of Pike’s writing, this metaphor is not meant to be taken literally. Instead, Pike uses it as a figurative device to illustrate the special place the U.S. Constitution occupies in our political system. The Constitution is not a fixed, monolithic document impossible to change, however, as Pike writes, it “cannot be hastily changed,” as evidenced by the relative difficulty of the amendment process. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution must be proposed by a two-thirds vote of either both houses of Congress or by a national convention, and then it must be ratified by three-fourths of either the state legislatures or state conventions. That this procedure is difficult is clearly demonstrated by the few times the Constitution has been amended in the past 220 years: the first ten amendments were enacted all at once as the Bill of Rights and there have been only 17 other amendments successfully ratified since then. This political document certainly reflects our “fixed habits and settled thoughts.”
In summary, our Constitution provides powerful protection of liberty through judicial review, and it also allows for a constant, stable protection of these same liberties due to the difficult amendment process.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Sunday, October 9, 2011
In the Eleventh Degree- Elu of the Twelve- we find King Solomon selecting twelve of the fifteen Elus to be governors in Israel. King Solomon charged these men with the responsibility of supervising their provinces, but more especially to oversee the fair collection of revenue. Hutchens writes in a Bridge to Light that “this degree should remind us of another institution necessary for true liberty- the trial by a jury of twelve men....” Most Americans do not question this fundamental right, perhaps because we are so familiar with it. But why is it so important? Why does the U.S. Constitution even list it? Why would liberty “often be but a name” without trial by jury? I will examine these questions by examining the history of this right, the significance of the redundant listing of the right in the U.S. Constitution, and how the right to trial by jury is an illustration of popular sovereignty and perhaps the ultimate example of checks and balances.
The history of jury trials can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. Citizens rotated service on trials, in some instances for an entire year. In Rome, laymen were appointed even to serve as judges. The juries and other legal procedures were very different from what we use today in both civil and criminal cases, but the concept of a judgment rendered by citizens was a feature of these civilizations.
Magna Carta, issued in 1215, is the most significant historical aspect of trial by jury. The King of England was forced to sign Magna Carta by a group of lords and is perhaps the first instance of the power of a king being limited in writing. The document established basic liberties, including a right to trial “...by the lawful judgment of his equals....” Our founding fathers wrote the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to establish a jury trial as a fundamental right in the U.S. The right to trial by jury is also found in Article III section 2; it states quite clearly “Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury.” The redundancy of listing this right twice in our most fundamental expression of law, the U.S. Constitution, helps to answer the question of why trial by jury is inherent to liberty.
My final examination of how the right to trial by jury is a basic requirement of liberty relates to the nature of our constitutional system. The framers established a system of checks and balances in which each branch has the power to restrain the others. For example, the President has the power to veto legislation passed by Congress, and Congress also has the power to override the President’s veto. The reason for this system, which lately has created political fights on topics ranging from the national debt to Libya, is simply that it keeps one branch from dominating. James Madison wrote in the Federalist No. 47 that “ the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in the same hands...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” This system of checks and balances is well known even to high school students in American Government class. What may not be as well known, however, is that trial by jury is one of these checks, as well as an example of the principle of popular sovereignty. Moreover, the right to a trial by your equals could be considered the ultimate example of a check. Trial by private citizens operates as a check on all three branches. First, it is a check on the judicial branch because jurors determine questions of fact independent of judges. Second, it is a check on the legislative branch because jurors deeply analyze the application of statutes and legislation. While jurors cannot “veto” a law in the context of a trial, they certainly become better educated about the law and to that extent play a key role in the process. Finally, juries check the executive branch by questioning the prosecution’s case, which in effect is a check on the executive since prosecutors are appointed by the executive branch. However, the best example of how the jury system operates as a check, in my opinion, comes from the process of education and the demands it places on common people. The jury system is a hands-on education for citizens about self-government. In this sense, it is the definition of liberty and without it, liberty would be “...but a name.”
Saturday, October 8, 2011
The PTA of North Polk’s West Elementary is selling a “Comet Card” for $15. The card includes discounts on food and services in the area including:
$2 off Casey’s Large Pizza, all locations
10% off Taco John’s, all locations
$5 off Chilis Restaurant ($25 or more purchase) Ankeny and Clive
10% off IHOP, Ankeny
$3 off SportClips, all locations
Other merchants include Ankeny Fazolis, Palmer’s deli in Ankeny, Nelson Automotive in Polk City ($5 off oil change), Polk City Subway, TCI dining, MC Sports, Culver’s, Plaza Florist, and Texas Roadhouse.
Cost of the card is $15 (cash or check payable to West Elementary PTA) and the card expires October 2012. If you would like to purchase a card, please email me at PolkCityFisherman@gmail.com. The fundraiser ends October 13.