COMPARING AND CONTRASTING CONSTITUTIONS

Standard

Okay, so this was an assignment for my US Government class. I wrote it all in one swoop and am not entirely sure it even makes sense in most cases, but I got a 25/25, so at least the professor liked it. Figured I might as well post it on here for funzies. 

The prompt

Constitutional Comparison Assignment For this assignment, you will compare and contrast our U.S. Constitution with constitutions from other countries. Here is what is required of this assignment: 1. Visit the following website: http://confinder.richmond.edu/ 2. Read the current constitutions for the United States of America, Cuba, and Norway. 3. In at least two full pages (minimum 1000 words) , compare and contrast the three constitutions. What are the similarities? What are the major differences? You should not include opinion in this section, just factual similarities and differences. IDENTIFY This AS “COMPARE AND CONTRAST” Follow the assignment submission guidelines provided to you at the beginning of the term.Due: 05/15/13

My Response

Compare and Contrast: Constitutions of Differing Nations

 

Author: Kara Mae Adamo.

 

            So, I have decided that, given the sheer breadth of governing bodies and the extent to which they could be analyzed, compared, and then contrasted juxtaposed to time constraints and my own personal desire to produce a work of at least moderate quality, that I will choose three focal points on which to base this paper. The first of my decisions, Executive Power, was chosen because I can delve into the implied priority of this assignment and cover the forms of government and how they differ from one another. Given the choice of assigning the Kingdom of Norway, whose limited form of hereditary monarchy poses a striking contradiction to our own government, I felt like I would be remiss to exclude it from discussion.

            My second choice, Economic Structure, is based on the inclusion of Cuba—a socialist nation notoriously pitched against our typically capitalist society—who, China aside, remains the chosen example during cross-party debates within the United States concerning taxation, medical care, etc.

            The third choice was determined while reading through the first thirty articles of the Norwegian Constitution. It concerns the role and significance of each respective country’s stance on the inclusion or exclusion of religious doctrine in matters of the State. Indeed, Norway is so fervent in their preference for a predominantly (though not altogether exclusively) Evangelical-Lutheran society that it is addressed in the second article of their entire constitution, listed right beneath their declaration as a monarchy. In Cuba, however, the priority shifts. There is no mention of religion’s place in their government until article eight, when they specify that no specific religion is to be given consideration. Instead, the focus rests in their concerns regarding their socialist ideology and in providing a historical context for the document.

 My justifications having been met, I’ll now proceed in the interest (possibly in vain) of brevity.

           Executive Power

            The Cuban Constitution endorses anti-imperialism.  Article 5 of their Constitution specifies that “The Communist Part of Cuba” is “Marxist-Leninist”. The People’s National Assembly is the official organ of state power and it is the only body that has legislative power within the realm. It is elected for a term of 5 years unless, according to Article 72, there is a case of war, in which the term can be extended. It is the National Assembly that elects a President, a Vice-President, a Secretary and 23 other members of the cabinet. It is the President’s job to render accounts of all of the activities within the National Assembly of People’s Power.

            According to Article 75, The National Assembly can (among other things) provide Constitutional Reform, approve national budget plans, declare war in case of military aggression, approve peace treatise, and give the system money and credit. 

            In the United States, our executive office is held by an elected commander-in-chief, the president, who holds limited control under the advisory of the elected Senate. Fearful of the return to a monarchy similar to what they had just recently escaped in England, the Founding Fathers also drafted Article 1, Section 8 of their constitution to state that, “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind, whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

            Norway’s King (or Queen) remains grounded by an elected governing body: The Storting (which is very similar in function to the US Senate). The Storting represents each of the Realm’s 19 Constituencies (not unlike our 50 States). The election for the Storting is held once every 4 years and no direct family members are allowed to be members at the same time.

            When it comes to the monarchy, instead of elections, the succession is linear and even applies to unborn children. The Constitution is very clear about the rules regarding the monarchy, and the Storting has a bit of control over that person, going so far as to stipulate how long he or she may stay outside the Realm’s borders: “The King shall reside in the Realm and may not, without the consent of the Storting, remain outside the Realm for more than six months at a time, otherwise he shall have forfeited, for his person, the right to the Crown.”

            Aside from this seemingly air-tight grip on the Norwegian Monarch, the position still grants quite a bit of ranked immunity. While the US presidency is subject to scrutiny and even possible impeachment, the hereditary monarch of Norway enjoys absolute, unalienable freedom from censorship or blatant reproach. There, the King is sacred, and so responsibility is shifted onto the shoulders of his or her chosen council.

            Both the US President and the King or Queen of Norway are able to issue pardons to federal criminals post-sentence. In Norway, criminals can either chose to accept or decline that pardon.

            In the United States, the Commander-in-Chief is only allotted full control over military forces (in regards to the ability to send troops to war) in the event of an emergency, “In times of emergency can be given power by congress to manage national security or the economy.”

             Economy

            The Norwegian monarch “may issue and repeal ordinances relating to commerce, customs, all livelihoods and the police,” but it is the responsibility of The Storting to exercise accounting for the Realm: “The Storting can raise loans in the name of the Realm, supervise the economic affairs of the Realm, to appropriate moneys necessary to meet government expenditure, to review the provisional lists of salaries and pensions and make therein such alterations as it deems necessary, and to appoint 5 auditors, who shall annually examine the State accounts and publish extracts of the same in print…”

            In Norway,  according to Article 105 of their constitution, “Land and goods may in now case be made subject to forfeiture.” It is also deemed the responsibility of the State to create conditions that enable every person capable of work to be able to earn a living. It is in this way that it almost reminds me of Cuba—possibly because I grew up in a capitalist society where the state holds no responsibility over one’s ability to work other than in the case of Affirmative Action and child safety laws, which were implemented later.

            In Cuba, the primary focus of their Constitution appears to be vested in their insistence on the values of socialism. The constitution “channels the effort of the nation in the construction of socialism” and specifies that the Cuban Ideal is to construct a society that is entirely free of exploitation between its members. The constitution specifies that medical care is to be provided to all patients and that all children must have access to food, clothing and education. The State takes it upon itself to be sure that “all families…have a comfortable home” and that the governing system of economy is to be based on “socialist ownership by the whole people.”

            According to Article 16 in the Cuban Constitution, “The State organizes, directs and controls the national economic activity under a plan to ensure planned development of the country, to strengthen the socialist system, increasingly satisfying the material and cultural needs of society and citizens, promote the development of the human person and his dignity, progress and security of the country.” The also controls all foreign and domestic trade.

            As if designed for the employee handbook of a US company, the Cuban Constitution dictates that “everyone who works has the right to rest, which is guaranteed by the eight-hour working day, weekly rest and paid annual leave. The state encourages the development of facilities and vacation plans.”

            By Cuban Constitutional law, “All organs of the state, its officials, officers, and employees, acting within the limits of their powers and are required to strictly observe socialism legality for the life of the whole society.” It is Cuba’s insistence that they “will never again return to capitalism,.”

            The United States, a notoriously capitalist nation, makes note of taxation laws, but it never outright states that it is a capitalist society according to the Constitution. This is partly because capitalism wasn’t even coined as a phrase until almost a hundred years after it was written. The implication that our Founding Fathers did not necessarily want a wholly capitalist society (which we are not, as there are socialist practices that peak through despite a lot of “anticommunism jargon”), however, is given in Article 1, Section 8, where it says “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

            Congress also has the ability to borrow money on the credit of the United States, to regulate foreign trade and “to establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States (compare this with Norway and Cuba’s ideals that more or less state bankruptcy is not even legally possible.) Congress also deals with counterfeiting.

            Section 8 also states that “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”

            Religion

            When it comes to religious freedom, the countries seem to have a bit in common, although Norway goes about it with ample restraint.

            In our very first amendment, the United States proclaims that “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 to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

            While there are certainly implied overtones of Christian influence (the printing of “In God We Trust” on our currency, for example), the Constitution itself proclaims no specific favor and instead insists that no laws should be made establishing a religion. Similarly, Article 8 of Cuba’s constitution addresses religion in very much the same way, saying “The State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious freedom. In the Republic of Cuba, religious institutions are separate from the state’s different beliefs and religions enjoy equal consideration.”

            Norway, on the other hand, has a slightly different approach. Even when they state that the King’s person is “sacred” they immediately imply a slight tip-of-the-hat to the Divine Right Theory of origin: “That government received the right to rule by the dominant religious institutions within a particular civilization.” (the quote was taken from the handout). For instance, while Article 2 may state that “all inhabitants of the Realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion,” it also specifies that “The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the state.” In fact, the Norwegian Constitution goes so far as to dedicate Articles outlining their monarch’s religious affiliation and duties in respect to the Evangelical-Lutheran church. The Norwegian King or Queen, is to “ordain[s] all public church services and public worship and all meetings and assemblies dealing with religious matters and ensures that public teachers of religion follow the norms prescribed for them.” Neither the US president or the president of Cuba are officially expected to partake in any religion, much less required to preside over religious assemblies.

            While I do acknowledge that my own personal opinions are to be left out of this piece, I would like to make one note, if I may.

            I find it interesting that, even in the case of a clear monarchy, religious freedom has been highlighted as an important factor. While the clear choice is to have a predominant Evangelical-Lutheranism, the state still acknowledges a person’s right to practice (or to not practice) whatever they choose without legal reproach. This keeps all three of the discussed nations quite a bit apart from the theocratic governments of the Middle East (ie: Iran).

            The reason I am making this brief commentary is that I feel that it is important to acknowledge one of the fundamental differences between Constitutional Monarchy (Norway) and Theocratic Rule. While in Norway, the King or Queen is expected to hold the official religion of the State and to preside over its educational bodies, a government with theocratic rule is different because the religious institutions themselves are the governing bodies. Religious laws and civil laws are grounded in a single belief system, exercising full control over the populace. The elected officials Norway are allowed to have any religion they please, so long as most of the King (or Queen)’s council holds to Evangelical-Lutheranism.

            It is also noteworthy that, in the case of the US President and the King (or Queen) of Norway, the diction of their respective oaths do differ a bit.

            In Norway, the oath given upon ascent to the Throne is, “I promise and swear that I will govern the Kingdom of Norway in accordance with its Constitution and Laws; so help me God, the Almighty and Omniscient.”

            In the US, the oath goes like this:

            “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

 

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