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May 5, 2009

The Choice is NOT Yours
By John Lambert

Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States, has proposed a mandatory civil service program that is ostensibly temporary indentured servitude. Am I the only one who finds this slightly ironic? Apparently, enslaving Americans is now okay, so long as the federal government is “master.”

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel outlined the mandatory civil service plan in his book The Plan: Big Ideas for America. Supposedly, the plan will help strengthen “the social fabric of the nation.” The plan is to have all young adults, aged 18-25, serve a minimum of 3 months in “civilian service.” This includes a “national security force” that will be larger than the U.S. military. They also want to create similar groups for elderly civilians and children in primary and secondary education. Anyone refusing to participate in these “volunteer” service corps would suffer a 5% increase in Federal taxes—for life.

For those who have not heard about this initiative before, the mandatory service was originally part of HR 1388, better known as the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act (GIVE). Legislators removed the mandatory language before the bill’s passing. However, HR 1444 reintroduced it. Both of these bills cause serious worry for those who feel that the government should abide by the rules laid out for it in the Constitution.

Part of HR 1388 calls to “prohibit organizations from attempting to influence legislation; organize or engage in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes; and assist, promote, or deter union organizing,” for those who are a part of this “civil service.” In other words, during the time that someone is involved in these programs, mandatory or not, they are not allowed to exercise their all of their First Amendment rights.

Similar language appears to further encroach upon First Amendment rights. Section 125 of the GIVE act states as prohibited activities, Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.” The bill does not allow someone who is in one of the corps to exercise basic Constitutional rights.

To be clear, I am not against volunteering, philanthropy, or serving one’s country. Each is vital to the fabric of America. Nor am I against getting the youth and elderly more involved in society and helping their fellow man. I agree with JFK when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Too many people today do nothing to help their neighbors and community.

What I oppose is mandating citizens to give their time to a government. It is a violation of liberty. Individuals should try to make the world a better place; they should feel compelled by their conscience. Obama’s plan to enlarge the Peace Corps is a step in the right direction because it increases volunteer opportunities. Government should not enforce this. Mandatory community service is for criminals—not law-abiding citizens.

The creation of the Obama Youth is the beginning of a change—a change away from Constitutional principles—a change we did not ask for and should not want.

John Lambert is a senior Music Business major.

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