I came across a quote by former Supreme Court Associate Justice, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Junior that sums up much of what is going on politically in the United States these days. “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”
As has happened throughout human history, people “cherry pick” from “sacred” documents and writings in order to prop up their own particular actions and opinions. In the same way that many choose religious excuses, we glean particular passages from the US Constitution. The “cherry pickers” rely upon the fact that the majority of citizens have little actual knowledge about the content of the documents they quote.
The knowledge deficit is due to the lack of a comprehensive civic education program in the country. If we look back at public school curricula a few generations ago, we notice that civics courses were taught at several grade levels in most schools. These lessons enabled people to be more informed, effective citizens.
In addition to our well-known, often maligned, three branches of federal government, as outlined in the United States Constitution, we have ourselves, the citizens who oversee that government and hold it accountable. It is the combination of all these factors that we recognize and celebrate today, Constitution Day And Citizenship Day.
In that the Constitution and Citizenship are integral, it’s not only important that we celebrate both, but that we safeguard both. We must remember that the rights and responsibilities don’t just belong to any one particular class, race, gender, religion, political party, or any other category of people. The freedoms and obligations belong to every single citizen of this nation. It is from willful ignorance that contentious people can cause great harm to others and the country.
One of the contemporaries of the founding fathers was the French philosopher, Voltaire. His writings helped inform the authors of our Constitution as well as the instigators of the French revolution. He wrote, “So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.” This statement is as valid today as it was in 1764.
According to the Library of Congress, “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is observed each year on September 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 and ‘recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.'”
In many cities across the US, activities and events will be held today. If you can do so, take part or attend one or more of them. More importantly, find a current copy of the Constitution and Amendments then read it. You don’t need to read it at one sitting, but you can plan on reading one section at a time. Unfortunately, most Americans couldn’t care less about this reading assignment.
Certainly, it is a dry, legal document. However, this dry, legal document is the foundation of our nation. To be an informed, effective citizen, requires basic knowledge about the foundation of the country. Without this basic knowledge, we blindly form opinions and vote for candidates and issues out of ignorance. In fact, many candidates and framers of referenda issues hope that citizens remain ignorant about the Constitution.
Flowery words and appeals to patriotism are poor substitutes for knowledge. Actual, first-person reading of our Constitution enables real knowledge about the government of the United States. This knowledge will help you ascertain and filter the words spoken and written by pundits and “political experts”. This knowledge will help prevent you from being swayed by firy rhetoric and stormy fear mongering. In short, real knowledge about the Constitution enables us to remain sane and sober regarding issues of national importance.
The Constitution is indeed a dry, legal document, but that doesn’t mean that it’s boring reading material. Once the reader gets started, the rest of the text seems vital, exciting, and imperative. That’s because it really is.
We all have the mandated right to read the Constitution of the United States of America. I think we need to take advantage of that right and actually read it. In my opinion, every citizen, native born, or naturalized, should sit down and read it. That way, we can all be more effective overseers of the government.
Happy Constitution Day And Citizenship Day.