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Insurrection, Sedition, & the Right to Trial by Jury

Cynthia Dunbar, © January 4, 2024

It is true that he who defines the terms wins the argument. A major issue that we face today is misinterpretations through the religion of secularism of things that would otherwise have been self-evident truths in a biblical worldview. Unfortunately, the predominant majority in America today, sadly even those who metaphorically populate pews, speak fluent secularism, but are incapable of reading anything written from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Secularism, by definition, believes in the dualism that our lives are divided into both secular and sacred realms. This is emphatically an unbiblical belief, as there should be no region where our lives are beyond the reach of our relationship with Jesus, for all things are made both by HIM and for HIM. [Colossians 1:16]

As we approach the anniversary of January 6th, the rumblings of “insurrection” loom large. But what exactly constitutes insurrection? In terms of legal construction, it is imminently important to find definitions that either precede or are contemporaneous with the laws being interpreted. Therefore, when hoping to understand clause 3 of the 14th Amendment it would make sense to look to Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.

INSURREC'TION, noun [Latin insurgo; in and surgo, to rise.]

    A rising against civil or political authority; the open and active opposition of a number of persons to the execution of a law in a city or state. It is equivalent to sedition, except that sedition expresses a less extensive rising of citizens. E.g. It is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. Ezra 4:19.

It is important to note that insurrection requires opposition to the execution of a law. While there is tremendous debate as to what even transpired on January 6th- such as who was instigating entrance to the Capitol- one thing is clear, President Trump and those who were supporting him were vehemently advocating for the full execution of the law. They wanted to ensure that the Electoral Count Act was adhered to for the proper vetting and certification of electors. Consequently, it would have been those who did not want this law to be followed who would have definitionally been the ones guilty of insurrection. Unfortunately, it was this latter group that won out in the end, as the prescribed legal protocol was dispensed with. Nobody will ever know what the result would have ultimately been had the proper process been followed. So, while the media cries “insurrection,” its true definition and proper application is ignored.

What is also important to note is that Noah Webster’s definition likens insurrection to sedition. Sedition was something that the founder’s were intimately familiar with, as it had historically been wielded by the Crown to criminalize and silence political dissidents. In fact, their desire to prevent the threat from future criminalization of seditious slander or libel is what birthed the first amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of press. They strongly desired to see that all citizens were left undisrupted in their unalienable right to not only believe according to the dictates of their conscience, but also were undisturbed in their freedom to express those thoughts and beliefs both orally and in writing. These freedoms were to be unrestrained without fear of reprisal even when those beliefs did in fact express opposing positions to the crown or those in authority.

The historic case of John Peter Zenger in Colonial America is reflective of the viewpoint that our founding fathers had regarding the preservation of these freedoms. It is likewise enlightening as to the gradual shift from this preservation by our modern-day legal system. In short, our right to a trial by a jury of our peers anticipated the ability of jurors to not only render a verdict as to the facts but also as to the legitimacy and appropriateness of the law.

John Peter Zenger was being tried for the crime of seditious libel because of statements he had published opposing the positions of the Crown. Despite the court instructing the jury to only decide whether Mr. Zenger had in fact written the statements, the jury instead, in rendering its verdict of not guilty, elected to decide issues of law as well as fact. Accordingly, they determined the law criminalizing sedition to be a deprivation of an unalienable right, and therefore, unenforceable. The jury was undoubtedly influenced by the impassioned speech of Zenger’s defense attorney, Alexander Hamilton, who unequivocally stated to the judge his view of the authority of the jurors. “I know they have the right beyond all dispute to determine both the law and the fact.’

It was because of this case and others like it, that King George deprived the colonists of their right to trial by jury. This deprival was even cited within the Declaration of Independence as one of the grievances legitimizing the severing from Great Britian and establishment of a new nation. In short, both the denial of the ability to speak in opposition to the ruling authority and the freedom of a juror to decide the legitimacy of such a law were seen as egregious deprivations of liberty.

We should take a moment to let all this sink in. These were the types of tyranny which our founding fathers saw as so oppressive as to merit their separation from Great Britian. The criminalization of sedition and the deprival of the full right to trial by jury were what plagued the colonies and ultimately fueled the birthing of our nation. We must not advocate for war or even any type of physical uprising, but rather pray against it. Still, we must not be oblivious to the fact that we once again find ourselves confronting these same grievances. We must be informed and equipped so we may peacefully express our views as to how these may be best addressed for the preservation of true liberty and the securing of inalienable rights.

The fact that silently and without much fanfare the full right to trial by jury was gutted and made all but meaningless over 100 years ago should cause us to sit up and take note. The Supreme Court in Sparf v United States in 1895 put the final nail in the coffin denying the ability of jury review of the law. That our modern legal system has taken from the people our ability as a jury of our peers to not only decide facts but also law, coupled with the recriminalization of sedition creates the perfect storm for serious abridgements of liberty.

While it may be tempting to be discouraged and focus on the chaos we see around us in our nation, we must keep our eyes focused on the source of all liberty, the Spirit of the Lord. We are assured that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes. Therefore, we can confidently pray for beauty to arise from ashes. May all the departures of our government from its proper role of securing unalienable rights be exposed and fully brought to light! May the unalienable rights of free speech and free press be protected from criminalization as sedition. May the right to trial by jury affording jury review of facts and law be reestablished and secured. And may liberty once again reign supreme across our land.

Cynthia Dunbar is an attorney, author, constitutional scholar, Government Professor at Regent University, former Law Professor at Liberty University, and an ordained minister with the Federation of Ministers & Churches International. She and her husband Jake pastor Resurrection Ranch and spread the good news of the gospel around the globe. Watch her videos on Freedom Focus or schedule her to speak at your next event.


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