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Story Last modified at 10:47 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Teaching our First Principles needs to take precedence

By Sen. Fred Dyson

Editor's note: The Alaska Star asked our area's representatives and senators for their input on this year's legislative session. For the next four weeks, these public servants will share their impressions and work load with us. One senator or representative will be represented each week. We thank them for taking the time to communicate with their constituents during this busy time. Meanwhile, we encourage readers to share their views, too. What do you think of the legislative process and the priorities for our community and state? We welcome your letters to the editor. Rep. Dan Saddler weighed in on Feb. 17. Sen. Cathy Giessel wrote on Feb. 24. Next week we hear from Rep. Bill Stoltze.

Today we are witnessing an attack on individual and states' rights, unparalleled in the last 65 years of history. Power is shifting from the 50 states to Washington, from the elected representative to the unelected functionary, from the Legislature to the executive, and from the individual to the state. Currently, we are in full retreat from our constitutional principles. And we must arrest this political drift toward complete government control before we find that individual liberty has been left in the ash heap of history.

The recent TSA mistreatment of Rep. Sharon Cissna as she attempted to return to Juneau from Seattle is a glaring example of just how egregious federal encroachment has infringed upon the privacy rights and liberties guaranteed to us in our Constitution. On the state level, our governor and attorney general are doing all they can to push back against federal takeover of our lands and natural resources.

How did we get to the point where we accept federal incursion into every aspect of our lives in the name of 'promoting the general welfare'? And how do we find the road back to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I would offer that we have forgotten our First Principles, lost our understanding of the constitutional republic our founders gifted to us, and that we must return to teaching and living by these principles, the foundation of all that is America.

The closing words of the "American's Creed" say, "I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies." This creed arouses in every American a deep sense of responsibility to preserve our country and our constitutional form of government as given to us by our founders.

Authored in 1917 by William Tyler Page, the "American's Creed" was the result of a nationwide contest to provide the briefest possible summary of American political faith and yet be founded upon the fundamental things most distinctive in American history and tradition. The U.S. House of Representatives accepted it on April 3, 1918.

George Mason was an American patriot, statesman and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention. He originally refused to sign the Constitution because there were not enough limitations on the federal government. Mason said, "No free government, or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people but by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." He and many founders believed that our government could not survive unless each generation was reminded of that government's reason for being and the principles by which it operated.

Thomas Jefferson said, "in all disquisitions of every kind, there are certain primary truths, or first principles upon which all subsequent reasoning must depend." But if we are not taught the primary truths, and if there is not a frequent recurrence to first principles, all that follows will be flawed and our foundations will crumble.

The unique features of our democracy within a republic, the things that make this country different from other places – open primaries, the election of everybody from the city council to the school board, recall mechanisms, citizen's initiatives and referendum procedures; all these things are not a series of random institutions that just happened to have evolved separately, they are an expression of the transcendent ideals that were expressed in the old courthouse in Philadelphia.

The success of our republic is the incarnation of the DNA encoded in the Constitution. Our founding documents identified the sources of our freedoms as political, economic and spiritual. And it is both our freedoms and the Source from whom they derive that contributes to what Alexis de Tocqueville coined as American exceptionalism.

America is exceptional because of the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence – there is a divine creator; the creator gives unalienable rights to mankind (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness); and government exists to secure these rights to mankind, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. These are the founding principles of our limited government.

And that brings us back to our need as a people for a frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of American political faith as set forth in its greatest documents, its worthiest traditions and by its greatest leaders. The "American's Creed" is still as relevant today as it was nearly 100 years ago. Let's say it together, and remember our precious Constitutional inheritance.

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

These transcendent truths are only a nostalgic theory if we do not understand them and strive mightily to ensure that our country lives by them. We must not let our role as "the last best hope of earth" slide quietly into the landfill of history.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.