Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Not To Be Taken For Granted

A Foundation of Fundamental Rights

Most of the older generation will be familiar with the name Magna Carta.  Modern youth probably far less so.  It was, of course, a charter agreed to by King John of England.  It was signed by the Crown at Runnymede, near Windsor, on the 15th June, 1215.

Robert Tombs provides a summary of the content and significance of Magna Carta.
Magna Carta has been called the first written national constitution in European history, though charters between rulers and rules were not uncommon at the time . . . . In important ways Magna Carta was unique, however.  Its restraints upon the Crown (though later claimed to be the "gode olde lawe" of the Anglo-Saxons) were unprecedented and profound.

It took the form of a contract between the monarch and the "community of the realm"--"everyone in our kingdom"--and ascribed permanent rights and powers to that community, even its humblest members.  It made clear that the king was under the law, and it planned a system (a council of twenty-five barons) to force him to obey it, with the whole community being bound by oath to help them.

Consent by "the common council of our realm" was required for taxation.  Magna Carta was not, of course, egalitarian, but it was inclusive, granted to "all free men," and also giving every man and woman without distinction the right to justice, protection from arbitrary demands for money, goods or labour, and protection against forced marriage.  It was permanent, applying "in all things and places for ever."  [Robert Thomas, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015),  p. 74f.]

Forced marriage was verboten.  That in and of itself indicates a respect for the rights and protections of women.  So, it seems that Lizzie Bennett was standing firmly upon her rights under Magna Carta when she protested (in the movie version) against her mother's insistence upon a forced marriage to Mr Collins: "You cannot make me!" she declared, although "may not make" would have been more appropriate.
  There is so much in Magna Carta we take as being fundamental to human existence.  We are stupid, however, to take such privileges, liberties, and rights for granted.

Tombs continues:
However narrow some of its detailed provisions, its broad principles (inspired by canon law, custom and earlier charters and coronation oaths) had open-ended implications  It guaranteed legal rights in phrases that became familiar watchwords.  This confirmed its importance and enhanced its myth as the first great public act of the nation, a source of power and legitimacy in later political struggles.  Its guarantees of essential liberties are still on the statute book 800 years later, and in recent English jurisprudence on the constitution it has come to be recognized as one of the fundamental laws of the land.  [Ibid., p. 75.]
One wonders whether Magna Carta will still hold a hundred years hence.  We doubt it.  Magna Carta needs a context and a foundation in order to hold.  That context and foundation is the Christian faith.  Remove that from the hearts and minds of the people and the rulers and Magna Carta cannot stand.  We have yet to see the worst of secular humanism's fruit.  Protecting and defending the rights enshrined in Magna Carta, we expect, will cease.

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