Along with the sight of Old Glory and the distinctive sound of the Star-Spangled Banner, perhaps no other symbol of the United States is as beloved as the U.S. Constitution. It is, to many citizens, what makes America unique among nations.
But to those on the conservative far right, the Constitution is under attack - attack from one-world government forces under the guise of the United Nations, from a U.S. Supreme Court that legislates rather than interprets, and from a spend-happy Congress that tramples cherished freedoms for which the Founding Fathers shed their blood.It is a belief prevalent among some conservative members of the Utah Legislature who have introduced at least a dozen bills and resolutions targeting everything from opposing U.S. forces under United Nations command to reining in the Supreme Court. One resolution even calls for the dissolution of the United States if constitutional freedoms are ignored by Congress.
"There is no question we have become increasingly conservative," said House Majority Whip Mike Waddoups, a Taylorsville Republican who sponsored the resolution to dissolve the United States. "When I first got here 10 years ago, there were 10 or 12 members in the Conservative Caucus. Now, there are about 30, 25 of whom attend regularly."
Among the bills and resolutions proposed by the more conservative members of the caucus:
- HJR1, a resolution urging Congress to cease funding for military activities under the jurisdiction of the United Nations.
- HJR11, a resolution opposing the placement of any U.S. troops under United Nations command.
- HJR15, a resolution urging Congress to limit the powers of the U.S. Supreme Court in abortion decisions.
- HCR7, a resolution calling for the dissolution of the United States if the national debt exceeds $6 trillion and/or if the Congress takes any steps to make the Constitution null and void.
- HB138, a bill that would require high school students to pass atest on the Constitution, Federalist Papers and Declaration of Independence prior to receiving their diplomas.
- HB182 and HB367, which would allow juries to determine the law and would allow information to that effect to be distributed to jurors.
- HJR3, a resolution to rescind Utah's call for a constitutional convention.
- HJR9, a proposed constitutional amendment reaffirming parental rights to raise their children in the manner they see fit.
Few, if any, of the measures are expected to pass both the House and Senate, although they have generated considerable debate. Representatives spent one entire morning debating HJR1, sponsored by Rep. Don Bush, R-Clearfield.
Waddoups said the Conservative Caucus is comprised of sincere, God-fearing patriots who have serious concerns about the direction the federal government is headed. Rep. Reese Hunter, R-Holladay, who has led the way on constitutional matters for years, agreed that current lawmakers "are a pretty good group."
"But as you saw (when a House committee killed his informed jury bill), they aren't as committed to stopping the erosion of our basic rights as they should be," he added.
Hunter also wants to rescind Utah's call for a constitutional convention. Back in the 1980s, the Legislature joined the growing movement to ask for a constitutional convention aimed at forcing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Ever since, Hunter has tried to rescind Utah's call, saying once such a convention is called, the agenda is thrown wide open and any number of bad constitutional changes could be made. "Yes, any constitutional change would still have to be ratified by a number of state legislatures, but if a convention is a bad decision, why take that first step?" he asked.
The bill to dissolve the United States is a step toward the same end of forcing Congress to balance the federal budget. Waddoups, who sponsored the measure but does not support dissolving the nation, agreed the approach is "far more drastic than most people want."
Apparently, it is too drastic for even Utah's predominantly conservative Legislature. Waddoups tried to get co-sponsors on the bill, but no one would sign on. Waddoups sponsored the bill on behalf of Taylorsville-Bennion resident Joe Stumph, a well-known ultra-conservative who has in recent years run unsuccessfully for the Legislature and for Republican Party chairman.
Another Hunter bill would abolish redevelopment agencies - the city or county groups that, through condemnation and tax subsidies, try to redevelop blocks or groups of blocks into new commercial areas. "Redevelopment agencies are, by definition, the complete package of government abuse," said Hunter.
Hunter believes that redevelopment agencies take private property and tax dollars intended for education and give them to private industry via subsidies that help one private developer over others.
Finally, Hunter has a resolution that asks Congress to limit the U.S Supreme Court's power to decide abortion matters. "Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution says Congress can decide the breadth of the court's appellate action. I believe Congress could make a law that says the (Supreme) Court can't hear abortion appeals. That would leave the states to decide abortion matters, for good or bad."
Another conservative, Rep. David Bresnahan, R-West Jordan, has a constitutional amendment that calls for specific protection of parental rights. However, after hiring an outside legal expert to look at the amendment, he's decided to send the matter to the Constitutional Revision Commission for additional study.
"Some of my constituents worry about what is happening in places like Massachusetts where condoms are being given out in schools and parents can't stop it," he said.
Bresnahan believes he can control such activity and "maybe a constitutional amendment isn't needed. We want to make sure that we don't do something that could interfere with the prosecution of child abuse - the idea that it's my child and I can do what I want to him or her."
Also on the conservative agenda this session is Rep. Ted Bradford's bill that specifically says it is not jury tampering for individuals to pass out "truthful" information to jurors or potential jurors about what their rights and duties are.
In addition, a defendant or his attorney could in open court tell the jurors that it is their right not just to decide the facts of the case, but to decide whether the law applies to the defendant or not.
Bradford's bill is an alternative to Rep. Reese Hunter's "informed jury" bill, which was killed Friday in a House committee. Hunter's bill would make the judge tell the jury they could decide matters of law.
"There are cases in Utah where good people have tried to pass out truthful information to the jurors and they've been arrested for jury tampering," said Bradford, who is an attorney and former juvenile court judge. Those cases were either never charged by the prosecutor or dismissed by a judge, but the people should never have been charged in the first place, Bradford said.
The jury system "is the last bastion of defense against an abusive government," said Bradford. "My bill is aimed not at a felony jury trial as much as it is for various regulatory hearings and proceedings. The conduct of the defendant is not in question in these hearings, but the law definitely is - is it appropriate for the government to be telling the citizen: `I don't like the way you are doing what you are doing?' "