September 17: Constitution Day In The United States
Religion & Liberty Online

September 17: Constitution Day In The United States

By federal law, September 17 is Constitution Day. That makes it a very good day to read the U.S. Constitution, especially if you happen to be a U.S. citizen. Maybe the last time you read it was in high school, or maybe you’ve never read it (it’s okay; I won’t tell anyone.) Surely, you remember the Preamble, at least, don’t you?

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson at The Atlantic has a few tips to get you through the 4400 words of the founding of America. First, don’t make it a one-time affair. Read it once in awhile. Remind yourself of why the United States is here, and what it cost to found this country.

You might even be surprised at what makes it into this original founding document.  In addition to addressing the macro issues of structuring the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches, it also provides for the more micro issues like granting Congress the power to coin money, establish post offices, and protect copyrights.

Next, Ferguson reminds us that jurors fail to show up, only about half our nation votes (and that’s probably generous), and “public office” seems like foul language.

All new citizens swear an oath “to support and defend the Constitution.”  That means not only bravely defending its principles from attack, but, more concretely, maintaining the institutions of government from neglect. Citizens must see that the daily, mundane maintenance of the Constitution is just as important as any grander defense of it.

Don’t stop at the Constitution itself. Ferguson urges us to find out about “Constitutional Heroes” like Daisy Bates. (Nope, I’m not going to tell you. Look it up yourself. You’ll remember it better that way.)

Remind yourself that the Constitution deserves credit in your daily life, and not just in some vague, “here’s the company handbook” sort of way. No, it actually impacts your life every day:

From the eccentric “prophet” shouting in a city park, to town hall meetings, or the publication of your favorite on-line magazine (like the one you are reading), the First Amendment ensures freedom of speech.  Personal freedoms from how you educate your children, to birth control, to the security you feel in your homes rest on constitutional principles.  The rule of law that structures almost every aspect of our lives – from criminal codes to capital punishment – finds its development and enforcement in the institutions created by the Constitution.

Finally, teach the Constitution. Share it. Talk about it. Debate. The point is that American citizens have this amazing document that is relegated to our nation’s broom closet, when it should be a focal point. I’ll even make it easy for you; click here for the official transcript. Happy Constitution Day.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.