A cry for justice is the theme of one of the oldest books in the Bible’s Old Testament. Amos was the prophet whose name in on the book. He was a mere peasant who believed in honesty and integrity in government.
Amos was a sheepherder. He lived in a time when injustice was the norm. The rich got richer, and the people had no power to change things. No one expected the little man to get a fair deal.
The kings were rich and cared little for justice. They thumbed their noses at the very thought of a fair trial. The king could do what he wished without impunity. There were no checks and balances until Amos came along.
Jeremiah was another prophet in Israel who was for good government. He found little of it in the temple or government house. He wrote:
“Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)
What is it with men in power like these kings in Israel? (They were not all bad.) Is it possible that a good man in power can begin to believe himself above the laws of the land?
It is not only possible but history bears it out as almost the norm. Today in our three realms of government–executive (the president), legislative (Congress) and judicial (courts)–keep tabs on one another. The writers of our Constitution did not want to go the road England and most European counties had, like James II and his complete contempt for the law.
These three branches of government are a safeguard, for without any one of these entities the Republic would fall. My fear is a total lack of checks and balances. I applaud what the American Bar Association Taskforce is doing (Thanks to the research and writing in the Boston Globe). They see a trend in our government that is not healthy. A trend something like old James II’s views on governing.
President George W. Bush had chosen to put “signing statements” on over 800 bills passed by Congress. That is 200 more than all the other presidents combined. The Constitution gives the president two options when he has a bill before him: (1) He can veto it or (2) he can sign it. There is no “signing statement” in the Constitution.
My name’s not Amos, but I know a clear case of injustice when I see it. The president is not above the law. When he signed the McCain-Feingold bill into law against torture of enemy combatants, he added a “signing statement.” That could only mean one thing. He felt he could ignore the law and torture if he alone thought it necessary. Because of American values and morals we do not torture as does our enemy. To act like them is to be like them.
When Amos condemned the injustice in other countries, all Israel rejoiced at his wisdom. When he turned his attention to Israel’s sins, he was no longer a patriot.
Our country was founded on a respect for the law much more than any country in history. If the laws are not for everybody, they are not for anybody. (For Taskforce’s work, see: www.abanet.org)
Britt Towery, a retired Baptist missionary, writes for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.