Jenna Ellis, Esq., The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution: A guide for Christians to Understand America’s Constitutional Crisis. Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press, 2015. xxxi + 210 pp., pbk., $19.95.
The back cover gives a very accurate picture of the questions this book tries to answer: “America is in the midst of a cultural and constitutional crisis that began more than sixty years ago and was further exacerbated by the 2015 Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision. How did we become a culture that lacks objective morality and embraces secular ideas, hinging on the majority whim of nine justices? How do we get back to being a biblically moral and upright society and recognizing the U. S. Constitution as supreme law of the land?”
In pursuit of these answers, Ellis makes several crucial points that Christians concerned about such matters often miss. First, we waste a lot of time and effort trying to show that the Framers were individually Christians. In fact, some were and some were not, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the legal basis on which they erected the Constitution.
Second, the Constitution is after all a legal document written mainly by lawyers. This is “the most critical and foundational aspect in determining and understanding the meaning . . . and objectively correct interpretation” of the Constitution (21). Why? Because “lawyers have a particular and distinct philosophy, assignment of meaning, and understanding of the law and legal documents” (26). They will “provide the authority, legitimacy, and rationale in specific words and phrases that other lawyers understand” (27). This of course does not stop modern lawyers from arguing over and missing the original meaning of the documents, but it does give those who care about the original meaning help in ascertaining it in its original historical setting.
When we look at the Constitution in the light of this legal tradition as understood by the Framers, we understand, third, that they were not thinking in terms of social contract theory but in terms of divine law. This is shown by the Declaration of Independence. Its writers understood that “in order for the Declaration of independence to have any legal authority to go against England’s then-current authority, it must appeal to a higher authority” (83-4). It did so by appealing to the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Thus, “The U. S. Constitution only has its legitimate authority as Supreme Law because of the Declaration of Independence” (82). Therefore, the Constitution is founded on Divine Law (God’s creative decree) as its authority and on the Declaration’s appeal to that Divine Law to give it legitimacy. The Federalist Papers provide evidence for the way in which the Framers understood all this as their rationale, and on that basis the Constitution was designed to function as the Supreme Law of the land. To try to understand it outside that framework is to ignore and to subvert the basis the Framers gave us for law. A very useful chart showing these relationships appears on p. 61.
Ellis’s presentation of this foundational framework is buttressed by abundant quotations from the Framers and sound legal reasoning which leave little doubt that she understands very well the Republic which, as Franklin said, they were trying to give us “if you can keep it.” It is too late to keep it. If we want to get it back, we need the clear understanding of these issues that Ellis provides. She concludes by arguing for a Convention of States as the best way to reassert the understanding of limited government the Founders had. This is an indispensable book for anyone who wants to understand what went wrong and how to fix it. I recommend it highly.
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping. And be on the lookout for his next book: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, due out Sept. 1, 2016).