- 2015 Session
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Magna Carta x 800
By Howard Stephenson
Utah Senator, District 11
This year marks the 800th anniversary of limited government, religious liberty, a trial by one’s peers and equal rights.
Centuries before the U.S. Constitution enshrined these principles of freedom and democracy in our country, King John (of Robin Hood fame) under duress from his Barons, who threatened to de-throne him if he did not agree to guarantee them such liberties, signed a document called the Magna Carta.
The granted freedom and limits to oligarchy overreach granted by the Magna Carta, was not actually granted to all men, just the high-ranking nobles; and the religious liberty guarantee, was strictly and specifically applied to the Church of England. But the very idea that a king did not have absolute power (and would admit to such) and that a church should not be controlled by the State was a revolutionary concept.
Thirteen copies were quickly made and distributed across the kingdom, lest there be any question that the King had actually issued the decree. And then voilà, the seeds of liberty and freedom had been planted.
There is no question regarding the impact that the Magna Carta played in the minds of our Founding Fathers centuries later. The similarities are far too many. In fact the official reaction to the Stamp Act (the event that incited the initial rallying cry of “taxation without representation”) was that it violated “the Magna Carta and the natural rights of Englishmen.”
It is also interesting to note that the first right guaranteed in both documents, the first and most important freedom that both generations deemed as needing guaranteed protection, was that of religious freedom.
First, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for us and our Heirs for ever, That the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the freemen of our realm, for us and our Heirs for ever, these liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of us and our Heirs for ever. – Magna Carta, 1215
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. –First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
The principle groundwork of freedom and liberty laid by the Magna Carta has stood for 800 years. May it stand 800 more.
More on the Magna Carta: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/legacy.html
This website is a clearinghouse for all things celebrating the 800th anniversary:
The surviving copies have been collected and brought together for the celebration:
And portions of an additional copy were recently found: