Each year on the 17th day of September we celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia in 1787. In 2004, Congress officially made Sept. 17 “Constitution Day” and required all schools receiving federal funding to teach students about the Constitution. Every year since 2005, President Bush has declared Sept. 17 as “Constitution Day.” And yet there is no mention of Constitution Day on my calendar this month, even though there are days marked for the Mexican Constitution on Feb. 5 and the beginning of Kwanzaa on Dec. 26.
Perhaps the omission of a day to celebrate our Constitution is symbolic of a general disregard for that document every official – whether state or federal, executive, legislative or judicial – is sworn to uphold. As a young lieutenant in 1969, I was sworn to support and defend that Constitution, which I knew could cost me life or limb. Today, that Constitution is routinely ignored by public officials who seem more interested in party politics, personal income and keeping their job than the “supreme law of the land.”
For instance, one of the leading candidates for president, Sen. Barack Obama, recently sponsored the “Global Poverty Act,” ostensibly to raise the level of income in poor countries around the world, but at a cost of $845 billion to U.S. taxpayers. There is absolutely no basis in the Constitution to spend our tax monies for such a purpose.
And the president agreed to sign the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill even though in his signing statement he admitted parts of it presented “serious constitutional concerns.” Although portions of the law have been struck down, McCain-Feingold still restricts First Amendment rights of free speech regarding political matters while making it easier for incumbents to strengthen their hold on their offices.
Not to be outdone in their disdain for the Constitution, federal judges push for the “living” Constitution, which changes with time and, conveniently, according to their personal opinions. Such arrogance leads judges to allow cities to seize private property for tax purposes, as in Kelo v. New London, by arbitrarily expanding the term “public use” to mean whatever they want it to mean under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. In another case, at the end of this last court term, the Supreme Court decided that it was “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment for states like Louisiana to execute child rapists.
Some Supreme Court justices are open and unapologetic about their reliance on foreign law and unratified United Nations treaties. In Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, the high court decided that sodomy was a “right of privacy” with which the state of Texas could not interfere, and it looked to foreign law to back up its holding. Only 17 years before, the justices of the Supreme Court had emphatically stated that there was no right in the Constitution to commit sodomy in Bowers v. Hardwick.
There was a time when the Constitution was held in high regard. In his Farewell Address to the nation, President George Washington warned that “the preservation of [our] government” and the continued happiness of our people depended upon our resistance to both “irregular oppositions to [the Constitution’s] acknowledged authority” and to changing its fundamental principles. But that was before government officials began to make a habit out of undermining the Constitution.
George Nicholas, like Washington, was a hero of the Revolutionary War who fought for the freedom to form a United States Constitution. On June 4, 1788, at the Virginia ratification convention, Nicholas noted of the Constitution that “[a]n enlightened people will never suffer what was established for their security to be perverted to an act of tyranny.” Nicholas recognized that if the federal government ever began to abuse its powers under the Constitution, the people would – or should – rise up in opposition.
In 1828, schoolchildren were taught to revere the Constitution for which Washington and Nicholas fought. In the “Elementary Catechism on the Constitution of the United States” by Arthur J. Stansbury, children were told the following:
On this great plan, or Constitution the safety and happiness of the United States, does, under Almighty God, mainly depend: all our laws are made by its direction or authority; whoever goes contrary to it injuries and betrays his country, injures you, injures me, betrays us all, and is deserving of the heaviest punishment. … Let every American learn, from its earliest years, to love, cherish, and obey the Constitution.
Schools celebrating Constitution Day today would do well to teach our children these important values of God and country.
It is altogether proper that we should remember and celebrate this Constitution Day when “We the People” adopted the greatest Constitution ever devised by man. But it is also incumbent upon us not only to note it in our calendars, but also to learn the contents, history and continuing importance of the Constitution to our lives, liberty and property. Then and only then can we properly teach our children and grandchildren to revere and cherish the Constitution and thereby ensure the safety and happiness of our land.