News • September 21, 2021

CBU faculty look at community and individual rights for Constitution Day

CBU faculty look at community and individual rights for Constitution Day

Riverside, Calif. (Sept. 20, 2021) – A panel of faculty members at California Baptist University discussed the Constitution and how it addresses the common good and individual rights.

Dr. Kenya Davis-Hayes, professor of history; Dr. Troy Hinrichs, professor of criminal justice; Dr. Chase Porter, assistant professor of political science; and Dr. Amy Stumpf, professor of society and religion, spoke at a Constitution Day event on Sept. 17. The annual observance marks the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

Dr. Chris McHorney, chair of the Department of History and Government, moderated the discussion titled “Who Are We the People? Communitarianism, Individualism and the Constitution.” Porter said the goals of general welfare and of individual rights are “inevitably” in conflict.

“To secure the welfare of all of the nation is going to require limitations on individual liberty within the nation,” Porter said. “Where I think we politically divide in America is, how expansive do we want the promotion of general welfare to be? The more expansive we want general welfare to be, to some extent, the more constraining we're going to have to be on individual liberty. I don't think you can have those two concepts without some sort of conflict. You just have to decide how much of a conflict you're comfortable with.” 

Stumpf said she saw these goals—general welfare and individual rights—more as cooperating.

“They're working together. Liberty is just a part of the common good or the common welfare and we would want liberty for other people as well as ourselves,” Stumpf said. “And it has to come at a price. The common good is not free. Whether it's through political means or economic and taxation, it comes at a price.”

Davis-Hayes said as Americans, people often don't think about the tension between general welfare and liberty until extreme situations occur. The pandemic has brought the tension, but so did rationing during World War II.

“In modern America … we forget overall that that we already have a society that's working towards a general welfare,” Davis-Hayes said. “But then when something happens and you're required to overtly work towards the general welfare, we have these very amazing and high stress conversations about the tension between the two.”

The panel also discussed how the perspective of Christianity should affect how to interpret rights and the common good.

“When I look at what the Scriptures say about loving my neighbor, honoring them, helping them stay healthy, respecting their needs, it trumps what [the Constitution] about my rights,” Stumpf said. “Jesus said it's good for my neighbor, so do it.”

Hinrichs said that while people need to care for others, he was concerned about having the government make people do certain things.

“When you give the government that much power, where does it stop?” Hinrichs asked. “Just look at the growth of the government since the American Civil War. It brings a lot of weight, and it never goes back to what it was before.”

Porter agreed he did not want the government enforcing morality in some issues, but he also felt that Christians need to do their part.

“My concern as a Christian is not how the government is handling the response to COVID. … [My concern is] how I, as an individual Christian, am responding to COVID. I can certainly go above and beyond what the government calls for me morally,” Porter said.

Davis-Hayes said Christians are called to always be salt and light. Members of the Department of History and Government encourage students to go into government and to bring in a Christ-centered worldview, “to kind of nudge our society in ways that are both legal and moral,” she said. 

“I think that's the best that we can do, hopefully without overreach … to legislate in a way that balances the general welfare and individual liberty, as difficult as that is. That's the tension,” Davis-Hayes said.

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