By Jared Eckert
Dissatisfied with the inadequacies of government? Pessimistic about the ability of government programs to solve your community’s problems? Great! So were the Founders!
That’s why they sought to encourage a robust civil society by protecting its necessary conditions in our framework of government. As outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Notice that four necessary components of civil society are explicitly protected in this amendment: religion, speech, press, and assembly, or association. Freedom of religion, speech, press, and association enable us to work together towards some common good, like knowledge, faith, friendship, play, life, etc. Hospitals, churches, universities, businesses, families, newspapers, and theaters are just a few of the institutions formed around citizen’s endeavors of these goods – and they all result from citizens exercising their First Amendment freedoms.
Imagine what would happen if these freedoms were taken away? Without these freedoms, citizens would not be able to speak up or work together to solve problems facing their communities. Without these freedoms, government seeps into and watches over every human interaction.
Yet even where these rights have not been abolished but are slowly diminished by a growing number of bureaucracies, civil society inevitability falters. For when government becomes bigger – as ours has over the years – it saps the vigor and vibrance out of our civil society by removing opportunities and incentives for its citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Civil society always wilts whenever government grows into areas where individual citizens – through their churches, families, businesses, hospitals, universities, etc. – are better suited to help their neighbors flourish.
By enumerating these God-given natural rights in the First Amendment, the Founders built into the Constitution an explicit affirmation both of government’s ineptitude in solving its citizens problems and of civil society’s unique and indispensable role in contributing to human flourishing.
So just remember, the next time you find yourself dissatisfied with government: our government was never designed to provide for our every need. It was established to protect the very means – faith, speech, press, and association – by which we can provide for each other’s needs.
— By Jared Eckert