Thursday, 2 February 2012

Ginsburg, Franklin, and the Egyptian Constitution



Yesterday, Justice Ginsberg gave an unprecedented interview in Cairo.  She encouraged Egyptians to look to models in modern constitutions, such as the South African Constitution, and the American Constitution, highlighting, among other things, First Amendment rights.

As part of the same visit, the U.S. judicial delegation met with grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, who said that Egyptian Copts are partners in Egypt, and that the new constitution should be consensual without discriminating against individuals (ostensibly the Copts).

In navigating a course that could be supported by new Muslimist majorities and still respectful of other religions, Egyptians may also want to consider the first Constitution and constitutional processes adopted by the tolerant state of Pennsylvania, where all religions were welcomed.  In 1776, two weeks before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Conference of County Committees met in Carpenters Hall, Philadelphia, and outlined a qualifying oath for constitutional convention electors:

"I________ do declare that I do not hold myself bound to bear allegiance to George the Third King of Great-Britain, &c.....That I will oppose any Measure that shall or may in the least interfere with or obstruct the Religious Principles or Practices of any of the good People of this Province, as heretofore enjoyed."

Then there is this edit made by agnostic deist Benjamin Franklin to the first Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights (crossed out text in square brackets, Franklin's additions in carrots):

"That all Men have a natural and unalienable Right to worship almighty God according to the Dictates of their own Consciences and Understandings: And that no Man ought or of Right can be compelled to attend [any Place of] <any> Religious Worshop, or <erect or> support [a maintain any Worship Place or] <any place of Worship or maintain any> Ministry, contrary to, or against his own free Will and Consent.  Nor can any Man <who acknowledges a Being of a God> be justly deprived or abridged of any Civil Right as a Citizen, on account of his <Religious sentiments or> peculiar Mode of religious Worship.  And that no Authority can or ought to be vested in, or assumed by, any Power whatever that shall in any Case interfere with, or in any Manner controul, the Right of Conscience in the free Exercise of religious Worship."

I found it rather interesting that Franklin, who rarely went to church and didn't believe as most others did, thought it justifiable for a man to be deprived of civil rights as a citizen who did not acknowledge a Being of a God.  Although this is an unwritten code for elected officials (most presidents and politicians are expected to say (and believe it) "God Bless America!"), it would never be written today nor required of regular citizens.  However, this kind of tolerance with a religious requirement to at least believe in one Supreme Being could offer a middle way forward for Egypt.

Seems to have worked for Pennsylvania, where there are more obviously observing faithful of all religions than I have seen in any other city, including Salt Lake City.

     

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