Magna Carta Neglexerunt
My pastor likes to speculate about watershed historical moments, and the enormous and varied breadth of his reading provides more than adequate examples. Sometimes these little chestnuts will pop up during coffee or while folding beds for his charitable church’s programs.
Last week’s coffee provided this observation, which he attributed to an obscure paper offered by an equally obscure academic: “I believe it was W. H. Munro who pointed out that the real promise of civilized treatment began with the development of the contract.”
Would that be the contract between Noah and God not to flood the earth again; signature by rainbow?
“No, of course not. God and gods need not adhere to contracts, nor would those with divine rights.”
What about the General Assembly?
“Ha! Yes, I should add ‘nor those who believe they are acting divinely.’ The Magna Carta might be as good a starting point as any.”
Wasn’t that way back in 1200 or so?
“Indeed, 1215. The Barons trumped the King’s power to have them arrested without reason by forcing his signature/seal at Runnymede in 1215 to a document protecting the rights of those accused. They vowed to swear allegiance to the King if he would acknowledge it officially.”
“Yes, and they kept their end of the contract. Quite a moment indeed. I believe that House of Lords Member Denning in the late 1800’s remarked it was “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”
Constitutional? Constitutions are contracts?
“Now you’re catching on. Constitutions carefully describe the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group, and in turn determine the powers and duties of the government and the guaranteed rights to the people in it. That, my friend, is a contract written for present and future generations.”
So, Quinn’s latest refusal to pay legislators until they brought in an appropriate pension reform bill was breaking a contract?
“In a sense, for you see a judge can be interpreter as well as arbiter. Judge Neil Cohen found the clause stating legislators’ salaries ‘cannot be changed while serving’ to mean ‘cannot be diminished, not just increased.’ That was originally meant to prevent their voting a fiscal escalation for themselves. The judge used, shall we say, the other side of the sword.”
And yet the very legislators who were vindicated this week have returned to working on cuts to promised pensions for retirees and public workers?
“Yes, from what I understand Pension Committee members have said they are still working toward a deal, using a framework that would end the automatic 3 percent cost-of-living increases, compounded annually, that retirees currently receive.”
But isn’t that hypocrisy?
“No, it’s acting divinely.”