September 17th is Constitution Day. One wonders how many Americans will take notice. After all, no one is getting a day off, there aren’t any mattress sales, and nobody ever got insta-famous talking about our founding document.
Maybe that needs to change.
Ours is the oldest written constitution in the world. It’s an ingenious document crafted by some of the greatest minds of their generation. However, in a culture that worships the present - the latest trend or the latest video gone viral – it’s easy to understand yet no less frustrating to see how timeless principles draw criticism as out of step with the times.
Our Founders set out to establish a government on the principle that the purpose of government was to protect the God-given, inalienable rights of the people. Knowing the same power to protect our rights could be used to trample them, they put in place a system to limit the authority of the federal government. I dare you to read this document, take a look our government today and see if it even vaguely resembles the Founders’ intent.
The seemingly endless campaign season is in full swing. So, there’s no shortage of people making a lot of noise about the problems in our country. Many have sought to score political points attacking provisions of the Constitution like the electoral college. (See AOC, the Squad, et al.) No nation is perfect, including the United States.
But our Constitution isn’t the problem; it’s the solution.
If there is a problem related to our Constitution it is that too many of our fellow citizens have no idea what it says. A constitutionally illiterate people elect constitutionally illiterate representatives who make constitutionally illiterate decisions.
How else do you explain U.S. Senators asking judicial nominees about their personal religious beliefs, despite a strict prohibition on a religious test for office? The problem isn’t isolated to the federal government. While states and cities may provide more protection for the rights of their citizens than what is found in the U.S. Constitution, they may never provide less. The Bill of Rights is a floor not a ceiling. A quick scan of First Liberty Institute’s client list reveals state and local governments violating the religious liberties of Americans from coast to coast.
The State of Oregon essentially bankrupted the family business of Aaron and Melissa Klein because their religious beliefs compelled them to refer a same sex couple to another bakery. In Washington, Coach Joe Kennedy was fired by the Bremerton School District for taking a knee in silent prayer after football games. In the Village of Airmont, New York, Orthodox Jews must seek and receive approval – which never seems to be granted – from the local government to host worship in their own homes.
The only thing worse than not knowing what’s in the constitution is “knowing” things that aren’t actually in the constitution. To hear some pundits today is to believe the First Amendment right of free speech applies only until that speech offends someone and the First Amendment right to freely exercise one’s religion exists only in the minds of the faithful or at best within the four walls of a church or synagogue.
Our Founders expected “We The People” would be the first guardians of our own liberty. How can we defend our rights if we don’t know what they are?
Constitutional ignorance is an existential threat to our republic. Our founding document is essentially a contract between the governed and the governing. If neither party understands the terms of a contract it becomes impossible to enforce. If we are unwilling to protect the Constitution it is unable to protect us.
It is no coincidence that while America is young by comparison to the rest of the community of nations it is the most free and prosperous. If we are to remain so, we must make every day Constitution Day. Learn it. Love it. Live it.
Lathan Watts is Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest non-profit law firm and think tank exclusively dedicated to preserving religious liberty for all Americans, and a Regional Fellow of National Review Institute. Learn more at firstliberty.org.