A Common Misconception: Constitutional Rights

A rather common theme that is often expressed by those who feel that PCC has overstepped its boundaries and by those who feel that PCC’s regulatory system is unduly burdensome is that PCC violates the “constitutional rights” of its students (and sometimes staff and faculty as well).

For instance, claims are made that PCC’s refusal to allow any single comment in support of The Voice or in opposition to itself (PCC mistakenly merges these two concepts together as one single, indivisible doctrine) is a violation of a student’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .”). Or a claim will be made that when PCC prohibits its students from worshiping freely (see Dr. Horton’s Comments regarding The Student Voice, specifically the policy prohibiting “public devotions”) this is a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of association or the freedom of worship (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. . . .”).

While I must acknowledge a certain degree of logic to these propositions, I must also point out that these propositions misunderstand the Constitution and are therefore completely incorrect. Please allow me to briefly explain why this is so, so that we can eliminate these false accusations against PCC.

1. The General Structure of the Constitution.

Understand the Constitution for what it is. It is simply a blueprint for the American system of democratic government. It sets up the structure for how our government will operate. Article I sets up the legislative function, the mechanism by which laws may be enacted. Article II sets up the executive power, the mechanism by which these laws will be carried out and enforced. Article III sets up a judiciary, the mechanism by which disputes will be resolved.

A fourth “part” of the Constitution, though, is generally where “issues” supposedly arise with regard to PCC’s restrictions, and that is the Bill of Rights (certainly, a part of the Constitution). Note that both the Bill of Rights and the general text of the Constitution (1) grant certain POWER to the government, (2) grant (or acknowledge) certain RIGHTS to (in)
individuals, i.e, they restrict the power of the government, and (3) serve other functions which are not relevant to this discussion. Therefore, since we are not concerned with the power granted to the government, we are instead concerned with rights granted to individuals.

2. Individual Rights.

As was discussed in Issue 4, No. 1, a right is a privilege that is capable of being claimed against someone else. The question, then, and THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to understand in addressing whether PCC violates any constitutional rights is to know AGAINST WHOM may those rights be claimed? If they cannot be claimed against PCC through the principles of the Constitution, then PCC does not violate any Constitutional rights.

Please note this: except for the Thirteenth Amendment (dealing with slavery), no part of the Constitution/Bill of Rights applies to private individuals in their private capacity or to private groups. They apply ONLY to the state, or the government. Therefore, since PCC is a private group, and NOT the state, the Constitution DOES NOT apply to it. In other words, PCC cannot violate a student’s constitutional rights because the Constitution only applies to government and does not apply to, among other things, private colleges.

Remember, this whole discussion about PCC should be divided into two parts: (1) what authority does PCC have (see Issue 1, No. 1), and (2) how SHOULD it exercise that authority it does have? It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the second question if one does not understand the first. The question of constitutional rights as it applies to students and faculty goes to the first question. PCC’s authority is neither derived from nor restricted by the U.S. Constitution.

I trust this has been enlightening, and I hope this clears up a very common misconception that is prevalent among PCC observers. Of course, I realize that there will still be those of you who will find some way to slam my motives, my life and lack of Scriptural support for this discussion, but so be it. Part of rational understanding requires a desire to understand rationally.

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