Technology and the Future of the U.S. Constitution

In recognition of Constitution Day on Wednesday, Sept. 17, Regent University's College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) hosted "Technology and the Future of the U.S. Constitution."

The event discussed a question that's been gaining momentum over the years: how do Americans guarantee natural liberties, constitutional rights and security in light of increasing dependence on government intelligence and technologies?

The question was addressed by a panel of faculty experts and moderated by Dr. Gerson Moreno-RiaƱo, dean of CAS. Dr. Josh McMullen, associate CAS professor; Dr. Dale Coulter, assistant professor in the School of Divinity; Dr. Mary Manjikian, assistant professor in the Robertson School of Government; and Professor Robert W. "Skip" Ash, the Senior Litigation Counsel for National Security Law at the American Center for Law & Justice comprised the panel.

McMullen began the discussion by drawing attention to public desire for government intervention in response to terrorist attacks throughout U.S. history.

Highlighting the War of 1812, Pearl Harbor, and Sept. 11, he explained that Americans seek government intervention in response to attacks on American soil.

"After a period we see that Americans tend to then reevaluate those initial decisions and begin to question, or maybe even fear, the role of the American government in their lives," said McMullen.

While Americans don't know where we they are in the cycle of attack, reaction, and reevaluation since 9/11, it's much harder to divest than it is to invest the government in power, according to McMullen.

Coulter addressed the balance between democracy, freedom, community and the individual. Offering a theological framework, he explained that radical individualism resides behind certain interpretations of the Constitution and brings us back to the doctrine of original sin, which he defined as "inordinate self-love."

Coulter explained that the challenge of technological innovations is that it can be interpreted as increasing the liberation of the individual from all forms of community life.

"There's irony in American history that we seek to liberate the individual and this quest to liberate actually makes us more dependent upon the state to secure that liberty," said Coulter.

Addressing the issue of technology and constitutional rights, Manjikian challenged the mindset that views technology as inherently unconstitutional or threatening.

"If we think about the constitutionality of new technologies, we really need to think about why we are attributing a particular ideological position to a technology," said Manjikian. She explained that America's use of weaponry, the first technology regulated by the Constitution in the Second Amendment, is still controversial today because people base their arguments on what they think weapons are for.

"I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with technologies like surveillance," she said. "There is nothing inherently wrong with regulating technologies either, but we need to be careful about how we construct these arguments regarding constitutionality or unconstitutionality of emerging technologies."

Ash ended the panel discussion by asking, "Are we at war or not?" With the War on Terror being a debate, there are questions that remain unanswered.

"It makes a difference because there are different laws that apply in peacetime compared to laws in wartime," said Ash.

He explained that when war is declared there are implications on individual rights and determining whether or not a combatant is lawful.

"You'll notice that when war is underway there is a balancing act that goes on between individual rights and the rights or obligations of security," said Ash.

by Esther Keane

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