Lawyers should stand up and be heard — we took an oath and we have an ethical responsibiilty!

Lawyers in NC took this oath of office to be admitted to practice law:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States; so help me God. I do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina and to the Constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; and that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said state, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, to the best of my knowledge and ability; so help me God.”(emphasis added).

What do you see in this oath?

You see an obligation to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of the State of NC, so help you God. Not to change it, but to defend it.  Not to manipulate it, but to maintain it.  Not to use it to hurt others, but to support it.

It is interesting, with all the talk about separation of church and state, and all the talk about what the bible says or does not say about same-sex relationships or marriage, that we lawyers take this oath, so help us God.  And we do so, with God’s help, to “support, maintain and defend” our Constitution. Not to defend the Bible, which needs no defense, but to defend the Constitution.

So, what takes precedence?  God’s law, depending upon what you believe.  Or, the law of the land, for all people, regardless of their faith or non-faith beliefs, so help us God.  This is not a trick question.  You know the answer.

An article in The Charlotte Observer today highlights what the Amendment One debate is not about, although people think that it is.  The title is: “Does the Bible tell me so?”  There are references to the scripture passages relied upon by both sides in the debate: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/04/12/3169197/do-we-really-worship-the-same.html

No doubt, the Bible is front and center in the discussion about Amendment One, and for that reason, I have posted articles from ministers on the topic and I stay tuned to that discussion.  But Amendment One is not about the Bible and it is not about gay marriage.

If Amendment One were about the Bible, it would mention the Bible.  If it were about marriage only, the text of the amendment would say that the marriage of one man and one woman shall be the only “marriage” recognized in this state.  The original house bill did say this, but then someone with an agenda got involved, and went further, saying that it shall be the only “domestic legal union” recognized, a term that will reek havoc in the Courts and on the rights of many, rights well beyond just “marriage”.

If the oath is not enough to get your attention, remember that we, as lawyers, are governed not just by our oath but by the NC Rules of Professional Conduct.

One of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides: “As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law, and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority“. (emphasis added)

The Rules provide further: “Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system”.

When we lawyers aren’t hearing jokes about our profession, we are receiving requests from businesses and individuals, those who can pay and those who cannot, to represent their interests.  And then sometimes, every now and again, like the situation we are facing with Amendment One, no one is asking us to represent them.  And yet, according to our oath and the Rules of Professional Conduct, we need to do so anyway.

We need to do so by speaking up.  For just a moment, we need to find time to avoid sitting on our civic hands.  We need, for the moment, to avoid just billing by the hour, or just looking for the next contingency fee, or just running our practices like a business.

We, as lawyers, need to remember that one of our duties is to speak out, to educate, and to take steps not only to know the law but to fulfill our responsibility to educate the least among us about the meaning of the law.

It is true that in our everyday practices, lawyers rarely have the opportunity to think about constitutional issues.  We represent individuals who have been injured. We defend companies accused of discrimination.  We pursue and defend contract claims.  We help municipalities and universities with their legal needs.  And the list goes on.  Constitutional cases are more rare and don’t pay the bills.  So we lose touch.

Amendment One is a good excuse for lawyers to get back in touch with constitutional issues, because what is about to happen, what may happen on May 8th, is an assault on the Constitution.

I have said it before and I will say it again.  We should not embed discrimination in our Constitution.  We should not constitutionalize the religious beliefs of some to the detriment of the religious beliefs of others.  We should not create a constitution with book-ends that don’t match, with a Section 1 that espouses the pursuit of happiness for all people and this new, very last provision in our Constitution, which does just the opposite.

So I issue this challenge to my fellow lawyers.  Learn something about Amendment One. Talk to your neighbor, your friends, your clients, your civic groups and others.

Explain that Amendment One is about more than just marriage.  Let people know that they can be against same-sex marriage and against Amendment One.

We, as lawyers, took an oath, with God’s help, to see to it that our Constitution is protected from the type of shenanigans that are going on with Amendment One.

It’s time for us to stand up and tell the truth about this amendment.

It’s time for us to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.

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