The recent changes to Obamacare can’t help but bring me to revisit the obsession Moses’ Law has with Equal Rights. The president, on his own, faced with parts of the ACA that either couldn’t be properly implemented or that, if implemented, would cause him political harm, changed the law to accommodate it to these problems. While these changes might have seemed expedient, they nevertheless altered part of a law that was properly passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the president himself. The alterations were made to unambiguous parts of the law. In our republic, the president does not have this power.
If the president views parts of a law to be faulty, he must ask the Congress to change it or, some would say, to ask the Congress to allow him to change it. He cannot just amend it according to his judgement, even if it is his best judgement. Nor can he change it if he feels or knows that the Congress would agree with the changes. This principle is one of those that separates a constitutional republic, such as ours, from an arbitrary dictatorship. Given the changes the president has decided to make in Obamacare – a law that he favored – what changes in which laws might we next expect? Or do we have a right to expect law to be unchanging unless or until it is altered or repealed within a constitutionally-prescribed manner?
Yet, arbitrary rule setting is as old as civilization. Strongmen, kings and emperors made up law as they went along, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. But on Sinai, Moses received Law that did not allow for arbitrary change, whether from a king, or priest, or another person of power. This Law was quite different from the laws that had evolved in nearby civilizations. It was a great break from history
The Law given to Moses applied to all the people of Israel equally. Equal Rights were born on Sinai. Everyone from powerful kings to the lowest herder was subject to the Law. Judges in ancient Israel decided cases using this Law, even before there were any kings. One of the warnings Samuel gave the people concerning their wish to have a king was that the holder of such an office would trample God’s Law, which had protected the people against the powerful. Of course, he was right.
While the Israelites vacillated between compliance and non-compliance through their history, the Law remained. It was abused and ignored at times, but it was, nevertheless immutable and relevant.
The lesson was learned in the West, and there were many great thinkers who pondered and advanced its wisdom. Our Constitution was an attempt to put the principle into practice. It worked so well that John Adams said that ours was a “government of laws, not of men.”
Today, the idea of Equal Rights is not strange to us – we are used to it. Hopefully, we value it as well. Especially as some of our leaders begin to venture into the ancient, bloody territory of being a government of men, not of laws.