Sunday our church had a special service to honor our local firefighters. Our minister gave a short sermon and one line really stood out to me. “We here a lot about rights, but not much about duty”.
We have a bill of rights. This delineates those rights that an individual citizen has in our republic. Those things the government cannot take away via law. Look at the beginning of the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law…” The constitution and the bill of rights are big on limiting government.
But what about the duties of the citizen? What do you have to do? What things are necessary for the functioning of this country. To quote JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Today everyone wants to know what is in it for them. Actually this has probably be true for eons, but everyone notices it when it is their era. Few people feel like the country won’t function without them. We don’t think there are things we have to do to keep our freedom.
When I went to reflect on this, I could only come up with two things our government requires of us that might be construed as duty. One was jury duty and the other paying taxes.
Our justice system requires, for its continued functioning, that we citizens participate in it. We have to be the arbiters of guilty and not guilty. Without our participation one of the rights of some other citizen would be taken away. Remember that next time you get that inconvenient summons.
Our government requires taxes. Is this a duty? Must there be taxes? A libertarian or tax protester might say it isn’t needed at all. And many of us believe the government needs less than it takes. But I think there is a duty to provide money to do those things that keep our nation sovern.
I also think taxes are the biggest reason people have no sense of duty.
In a consumer culture we believe we pay for something and then someone else is responsible for doing it. That’s what we pay them for. So we pay for a defense, and the soldiers we pay are responsible for doing it. But what if we didn’t pay? What would our duty be?
In actuality that is precisely what the second amendment in the bill of rights is talking about. Back then there was no income tax. There were very few taxes. But we bunch of colonists were getting ready to to go to war with the most powerful government and army in the world. And our founding fathers knew it. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” The people were the army.
What would it be like if when we decided to go to war in Iraq the government just picked a bunch of citizens and sent them. Not necessarily volunteers, but anyone who could do the job could be called to duty? An interesting scenario and one that would call on our sense of duty.
Americans can volunteer for various duties to the country. We can join the military and accept the duty of defense. We can become a fire fighter and accept the duty to risk out lives for others. We can vote and accept the duty of picking out leaders. We can run for office and accept the duty of serving the rest of the people.
Something to think about.