Sometimes, among the arguments over what the Founding Fathers meant by "well-regulated militia" and whether they were Christians, deists, atheists or Scorpios, the point is lost. This was highlighted as the Supreme Court recently ruled on issues including same-sex marriage and Obamacare based on a document written when gay meant happy and health care meant leeches.
Independence Day this weekend marks the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams 189 years ago. They were great thinkers. But their beliefs, as much as they informed the creation of this nation, don't always get to decree how we live now.
What would the Bill of Rights look like if we wrote it today? What sort of nation do we want to live in? We would have the power to redefine it all with Jefferson's permission. He believed the Constitution should expire and be rewritten every 19 years. There are aspects we'd want to retain, but it's freeing to imagine writing a new edition. So what would my new Constitution look like? Here's how I'd start.
Amendment 1: The government is prohibited from outlawing any act by a person unless it directly infringes on the liberty of another person. (So, shoot heroin and watch cartoons in the den: no problem. Shoot heroin and endanger others by driving: life in prison.)
Amendment 2: All tax deductions are outlawed. All tax exemptions and tax-exempt status, for organizations and people, are outlawed. (Every exemption and deduction is a form of control or a granting of special status that forces others to pay for organizations and people they haven't necessarily chosen to support.)
Amendment 3: It shall be illegal for publicly held corporations to donate money to any political, charitable or religious cause. (All such contributions are a theft from shareholders.)
Amendment 4: War, other than in direct defense of our nation, can be declared only by a direct vote of eligible Americans. All healthy citizens between ages 18 and 40 must be registered for the draft. Only registered, draft-eligible Americans in that age range and current military members may vote on a declaration of war.
Amendment 5: The federal government may never decree that any individual has the "right" to any good or service created by human labor. There can be no "right" to food, clothing, shelter or health care supplied by people; to rule otherwise is to force those producers into a form of slavery.
Amendment 6: Each provably law-abiding citizen may own one handgun, one rifle and one shotgun. Each weapon will have a load limit of 10 shots. Crimes against others committed while brandishing or using such weapons will result in life imprisonment, as will the sale, loan or transfer of such weapons to a person not provably law-abiding at the time of transfer.
Amendment 7: Medical long-term contraception will be free to all Americans of any age. Those who refuse it will sign a release saying they are not eligible for abortions except in the case of medical issues discovered during pregnancy or sexual assault. Adults who refuse such protection for their minor children will become the legal parents of any child born to such a minor child, with all legal responsibilities. Those who accept such contraception and become pregnant despite it will be eligible for abortions.
That's just a start, obviously, but it makes the point that we could craft a Constitution that would deal with the world as it is. The principles of our Founding Fathers are mostly still correct, even if these guys never saw an iPhone and didn't even know to include the word "sheeple" in political treatises. But the many rules they wrote can be inappropriate for the modern world, and baffling.
Let's heed Jefferson and craft a great new Constitution.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.
Thomas Jefferson had the right idea. How would you redefine the U.S. Constitution? Comment below.