Archive for the 'Religion and the Law' Category

Laws about gun ownership in early America

Posted by on Dec 09 2011 | Constitutional History, Election Law, guns, History, Militia, Political Ignorance, Religion and the Law, Right to carry

Regarding Eugene Volokh’s post below about an NYU L. Rev. article, “The People” of the Second Amendment: Citizenship and the Right To Bear Arms. I just scanned the article, and there appears to be only a single footnote which directly cites any state statutes from before 1800. Note 125, accurately cites standard statutory compilations from Massachusetts and Connecticut for laws against selling firearms to Indians. Although the author is apparently unaware that by 1661 (Connecticut) and 1688 (Massachusetts) the laws were changed to allow gun sales (and even gun carrying in towns) by friendly Indians. The article suffers very severely from its near-exclusive reliance on secondary sources for the pre-1800 period, especially since some of those sources are highly tendentious.

To summarize the information from Chapter 3 of my forthcoming textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen Publishers, available in late Jan. 2012) regarding American law pre-1800:

Women: No restrictions. Of course they did not serve in the militia. Laws requiring “householders” (whether or not they were in the militia) to have arms were common, and these usually included a woman who was the head of the house (e.g., a widow).

Free blacks: Some states had no restrictions, some states had bans on their owning guns. Free blacks served in some state militia, not in some other states, and in some states policies changed depending on military necessity. They were excluded from the federal militia by the Second Militia Act of 1792.

Slaves: Several states banned gun ownership, or allowed ownership only with the master’s permission.

Poor whites: To claim that they were excluded from gun ownership or from militia service is absurd. There were absolutely no property or wealth restrictions on gun ownership, nor on service in the militia. To the contrary, many states had programs to supply poor people with guns (“public arms”) for militia service, if they could not afford their own. Further, the laws requiring householders to be armed often required that the household provide arms to adult male servants. State laws also required that when an indentured servant finished his or her term of service, the master must provide the former servant with “freedom dues” so that the servant could begin independent life. The freedom dues were specified set of goods; in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, freedom dues for male servants included a firearm. In short, the state laws of the 17th and 18th centuries in America were generally prescriptive about gun ownership by poor people, and the prescriptions were to put guns into the hands of the poor.

The author of the NYU article asserts that “arms bearing was considered congruent to voting, holding public office, or serving on juries.” That’s incorrect for “bearing” in the sense of carrying a gun for personal use, since there were no wealth, sex, age, or citizenship restrictions on carrying. And the claim is even more incorrect if “bearing” is meant in the restrictive sense of “bearing for militia service.” Militia laws always mandated service by all males (except, sometimes Blacks or Indians) in a certain age range. Period. The only exemptions were for specified professions (e.g., clergy). Militia duty was generally required starting at age 16 or 18 (which was before voting eligibility). Indeed, during the end of the 18th century and the early 19th century, one of the standard,successful, arguments for broadening the franchise by eliminating the property requirement for voting was that anyone who served in the militia deserved to vote. E.g., “Let every man who fights or pays, exercise his just and equal right in their election.” Thomas Jefferson letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.

Catholics: In Maryland, temporarily barred from gun ownership during the French & Indian War.

Dissenters: During the Revolution, there were plenty of instances of confiscating guns (sometimes with compensation) for militia use from people who would not take a loyalty oath to the new nation, or who would not serve in the militia (this included plenty of religious pacifists in Pennsylvania). During the early theocratic days in Massachusetts, 75 supporters of the religious dissident Anne Hutchinson were disarmed.

The author’s thesis is that illegal aliens and legal non-resident aliens should be allowed to own guns. Part of his argument is to construct and then criticize the supposedly historical “gendered,and class-stratified understanding of persons permitted to own guns.” The author could have made a stronger historical argument for his position if he had accurately described the gun laws of 17th and 18th century America.

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The Original Constitution, 2nd Edition is Available

Posted by on Sep 27 2011 | Constitutional Amendments, Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Constitutional Theory, Necessary and Proper, Originalism, PPC, Religion and the Law, Taxing and Spending Clause, Tenth Amendment, The Founders, U.S. Constitution

Constitutional scholar and Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence Rob Natelson released a fantastic book last year called The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant. The book was and is a huge hit. What the book did was fill a gap that was left by constitutional scholars who never got around to writing a comprehensive look at our nation’s founding document aimed at the lay person. Sure there are a lot of books out there on particular parts of the Constitution, but none that cover the whole shebang and none of them were written with your average Joe (or Jane) in mind. Rob Natelson stepped up and filled that gap.

Turns out however that Rob was not satisfied the first time around. He went back and re-worked his first edition and created and even bigger and better second edition to his book. You can find the second edition both on and the Tenth Amendment Center’s store. So how is this second edition different than the already fantastic first edition? Rob explains all that in this podcast with one of my minions Justin Longo. You can also go to Rob’s blog – – to see what Rob has to say about his second edition.

It’s difficult to improve upon a great thing. But somehow Rob did it with this new book. Thank you for all your hard work Rob. You are doing an incredible job educating us mere mortals on our nation’s founding era history.

Speaking of education… don’t forget that THIS FRIDAY is our huge Constitution event down in Colorado Springs at the Antlers Hilton. There are a few spots remaining, so please RSVP as soon as you can. Do not miss this opportunity to see constitution scholars Rob Natelson and Dave Kopel in action!

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New ‘Toon: School Choice

Posted by on Sep 06 2011 | education, PPC, Religion and the Law

the daily spin
[Copyright Ben Hummel at]

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Channel 7 Likes Us!

Posted by on Aug 03 2011 | education, PPC, Religion and the Law

Along with the completely insane Lobato education case, this week marked the beginning of the legal battle over Douglas County’s school voucher program. The suit was brought by the ACLU and “concerned” parents. They are asking a Denver judge to block the program, or in legalese – grant an injunction. 7NEWS is covering the courtroom drama with this report and video. Take a look at who they interview on the side of the voucher program. None other than Diana Oakley herself, who we featured in our Douglas County voucher program video! Not only that, they included our footage in their TV broadcast! How flattering. You can watch their broadcast in the video they have embedded in their report.

A big thanks to 7NEWS for picking up on our video and for finding Diana Oakley to share her compelling story. More people need to find out about kids like Nathaniel Oakley who cannot learn well in one size fits all education. This program can save kids like him.

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One of These Cases Will Challenge Obamacare

Posted by on Jun 22 2011 | Health Care, health control law, Kopelization, obama, obamacare, PPC, Regulation, Religion, Religion and the Law, Taxes

In one of the most informative op-eds I have ever read, our Research Director and Law guru Dave Kopel discusses the Obamacare cases that could potentially be heard by the Supreme Court in the upcoming session, which begins in October 2011 and will end in June 2012. We’ve got several chances at getting a “writ of certiorari” to challenge Obamacare’s constitutionality and Dave is certain one of them will get the proverbial nod. As Dave explains, a writ of certiorari is the legal term used to describe the Supreme Court’s action in picking up a case to be heard.

Perhaps most interesting to me in the article is when Dave points out that one of the cases addresses an area of constitutionality that none of the others does. In most instances, the legal challenge is meant to take on Obamacare’s individual mandate via the Commerce Power and/or the Necessary and Proper Clause. But in Seven-Sky v. Holder, the plaintiffs are challenging the mandate on First Amendment grounds! Turns out, the mandate to buy “Western style” health insurance infringes on some people’s religious freedoms. I’ll let Dave explain,

All the Seven-Sky plaintiffs are individuals who, for one reason or another, have religious objections to using the standard services of western medicine. The PPACA contains no exemption for such people… They argue that the mandate violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, as protected by a federal statute called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). That 1993 law provides that the federal “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

Isn’t that fascinating? Obamacare has some waivers and exemptions – mostly for friends of the White House and some religious groups like the Amish – but none for these folks. It will be interesting to see which of these cases the Supreme Court decides to take up. I will be doubly interested if the SCOTUS decides to take this particular First Amendment case.

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Rosary ban likely illegal, say Volokh and Kopel

Posted by on Oct 25 2010 | First Amendment, Religion and the Law, Religious Freedom

(David Kopel)

Mann Middle School in Colorado Springs has banned students from wearing rosaries as visible necklaces. School officials have offered two different rationales: some gang members wear rosaries as gang symbols; some Catholics are offended by the wearing of rosaries on the neck. A Colorado Springs Gazette editorial on the controversy quotes Eugene Volokh and David Kopel, and concludes that the ban is almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment.

Not that the constitutional question depends in the slightest on whether wearing rosaries is allowed by Catholic doctrine, but as the editorial notes, the Diocese of Colorado Springs confirms that such wearing is allowed. And St. Louis De Monfort, who is probably the most influential pro-rosary advocate of all time, included in his book The Secret of the Rosary some stories in which wearing the rosary, including as a necklace, was shown to be divinely approved.

Note also a similar case from Schenectady, N.Y.: after the American Center for Law and Justice filed suit, the federal district court for the northern district of New York entered a TRO ending the student’s suspension for wearing a rosary. The school board repealed its rosary-wearing ban.

St. Louis De Monfort, perhaps the most well known, loved, and influential saint when it comes to devotion to Mary and to the Rosary.
These are taken from his little work entitled The Secret of the Rosary

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The Democratic Strategist misdescribes some legal issues

Posted by on Apr 12 2010 | Constitutional History, Health Care, Politics, Religion and the Law, Religious Freedom, supreme court, Thomas Jefferson

(David Kopel)

The Democratic Strategist (co-edited by William Galston, Stan Greenberg, and Ruy Teixeira) aims to provide “serious, data-based discussion of Democratic political strategy.” Today, a special “Urgent” issue was published, regarding the Supreme Court and warning about the “covert extremist agenda” of the Republican right. The report raises an alarm about the legal agenda currently promoted by “the Christian Right, the Tea Party Movement, and the radical Federalist Society legal wing of the Right.” The report provides three examples. First:

Since the 1990’s, the Christian Right has sought to replace the traditional American separation of church and state with the notion that the U.S. was actually created as a “Christian Nation” in which Christianity was intended to receive favored treatment by government policy. The most startling recent expression of this view was last month’s decision by the Texas School Board to remove Thomas Jefferson—the symbol of America’s tradition of religious freedom and tolerance—from the states’ history curriculum.

The report is accurate in that some (although hardly all, or necessarily most) supporters of the “Christian Right” believe that the government should favor Christianity over other religions. Most of the Christian Right does believe, as did Chief Justice Rehnquist, that in some circumstances the government may favor religion over irreligion. See Wallace v. Jaffrey (1985) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting from decision to declare moment of silence in schools unconstitutional).

The report’s description of the Texas State Board of Education (not the “Texas School Board”) is inaccurate. Under the new  proposed standards, Jefferson is part of the required curriculum for 5th grade American History, 8th grade American History, and the high school class in U.S. Government. He was removed from the standards for World History class, because the Texas State Board thought that he should not be included among “European Enlightenment philosophers.” In the 8th grade American History class, not only is Jefferson required, so is his good friend, the famous enemy of organized religion, Thomas Paine. Only George Washington appears in the Texas curriculum standards more often than does Jefferson.

Item 2 in The Democratic Strategists’ parade of horribles is the lawsuits against Obamacare:

The basis for such suits—typically a denial of the power of Congress to legislate economic matters under the Commerce and Spending Clauses of the U.S. Constitution—is automatically and unavoidably a collateral attack on the constitutionality of a vast array of past legislation, including most New Deal/Great Society programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The word “basis” has a footnote cite to an article by Matthew Yglesias. The Yglesias article criticizes the notion that  Commerce “among the several States”  should be “understood as basically about transporting goods across state lines.” Yglesias points out: “the Louisiana Purchase, the Bank of the United States, Henry Clay’s ‘American System,’ a transcontinental railroad, land grant colleges, etc. And in particular since the New Deal the commerce clause has always been understood as granting wide-ranging authority to regulate the national economy.” True enough in a broad sense (although most of Yglesias’s 19th century examples do not involve the interstate commerce power). So if the lawsuits were premised on the idea that the federal power over interstate commerce extends only to the sale of goods across state lines, The Democratic Strategist’s warning would be apt.

However, if you read the complaints filed by Virginia and by the 18-state coalition led by Florida, there is no argument against the interstate commerce power as it existed on March 1, 2010. Rather, the complaints argue against an unprecedented expansion of the interstate commerce power: namely the purported power to force an individual to purchase a product he does not want to purchase, and an unprecedented use the tax code to punish someone for choosing not to purchase a product.

While the cases do complain about changes in the state funding formula for Medicaid, they never question the constitutionality of Medicaid itself. Thus, an attack on Obamacare is not “automatically and unavoidably a collateral attack” on even an iota of the New Deal and the Great Society. As I have previously detailed, finding the Obamacare mandate and its associated tax to be unconstitutional does not require overturning, or even questioning, a single precedent in existing Supreme Court law.

The third and final item in the parade of horribles:

The Republican revolt against any cooperation with Democratic legislation and initiatives has carried an extraordinary number of conservatives into a general attitude of defiance towards the rule of law itself and flirtation with constitutional doctrines of state nullification and succession. These doctrines were developed as arguments for state sovereignty by the Confederacy in the civil war era and as 1950’s and 1960’s era segregationist strategies to thwart desegregation and civil rights for African-Americans. [And, later in the document:] Let them bring it on with all the segregation-era legal strategies of succession and nullification.

Well, not exactly accurate. First, the doctrine of “succession” describes how Barack Obama became President after George W. Bush. One of the first uses of the constitutional doctrine of succession was when John Adams became President after George Washington.

The doctrine of “secession” long predated the Confederacy. It was advanced by, among others, some New Englanders who wanted to leave the Union during the War of 1812, by Southerners who advocated the right when objecting to the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, and by some persons at the very end of 18th century who feared that President Adams was moving the country towards dictatorship. Thomas Jefferson, in his 1798 letter “Patience and the Reign of Witches,” counseled against secession as response to “a temporary superiority of the one party,” notwithstanding the “oppressions of enormous public debt. . . . Better keep together as we are. . . If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost . . . .”

The Democratic Strategist rightly reveres the great Thomas Jefferson, so it is surprising that TDS does not know (or, at least, does not acknowledge) that the constitutional doctrine of nullification was first articulated by Jefferson himself, in the Kentucky Resolution of 1798. As Jefferson put it, “where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy.” James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, articulated the milder doctrine of Interposition, in the Virginia Resolution, declaring that the states “have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.”

The Democratic Strategist affirms “that the Democratic Party proudly upholds the traditional American view of the constitution—the view of the founding fathers of this country—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.”  The Democratic Strategist then accuses its imagined enemies of being anti-american for allegedly trying “To establish the right of individuals or states to ignore and disobey any laws that they happen to interpret as impinging on their freedom or natural rights”  and the right of individuals “to ignore any laws they choose.”  This is straw man. As far as I know, no employee of The Federalist Society ever said that any individual could ignore any law he chose. All of the Founders, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, and Adams, did believe that in cases of great urgency and necessity, disobedience was a moral duty–which is why they helped to remove one government and replace it with another in 1776. Even under that new government, Jefferson and Madison thought that states had a duty to protect their citizens from federal laws which violated both natural rights and the Constitution–as did the Sedition Act, in the view of Jefferson and Madison. And of course many great Americans in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s refused to obey racially discriminatory laws which they believed to be contrary to natural rights and the Constitution.

Americans in the 21st century are free to disagree with Jefferson and Madison, just as did many Americans of 1798, since other some other state legislatures voted to reject the call to support the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions.

Near the end, the TDS memo announces: “Let them bring it on with all the attempts to write Thomas Jefferson and the separation of church and state out of American history.” May people of every political persuasion resist every attempt to write Thomas Jefferson out of our history. May everyone extol, as does TDS, “the traditional American view of the constitution—the view of the founding fathers of this country.” And so in our modern debates on the Supreme Court and judicial policy, may everyone be free to disagree with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, but let no-one who espouses the constitutional doctrines of these great Americans be maligned as unamerican.

Christian Right, the Tea Party Movement, and the radical Federalist Society legal wing of the

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