Celebrate Constitution Day by reading it

Father Mark Kusmirek
Posted 9/10/19

We celebrate many national holidays. We remember presidents, social leaders, Veterans, Labor and Memorial Days, our Independence from England and others. There is one day that passes without notice: Constitution Day.

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Celebrate Constitution Day by reading it

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We celebrate many national holidays. We remember presidents, social leaders, Veterans, Labor and Memorial Days, our Independence from England and others. There is one day that passes without notice: Constitution Day.

Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on September 17, 1787, recognizing all who are born in the U.S., or by naturalization, are citizens. The delegates of the Constitutional Convention met for the last time to sign the document they had created.

This may be a touchy question to ask: when was the last time you read the Constitution of the United States? Perhaps in grammar or high school, during a civics class.

This foundational document of our nation is often spoken about by scholars or politicians looking to apply its words to what we experience today.

But what is its purpose? To give us laws or a way of knowing ourselves as a nation?

It provides for an orderly way of life ranging from setting up courts of law, establish post offices, promote the progress of sciences and useful arts, to name a few. The Preamble states its purpose with great clarity:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Powerful and guiding words to help a newly created nation orient itself. You might call the Preamble the “vision” of what the Founding Fathers had in mind as they went about the hard work of establishing a way of governing. After separating from England, they needed to make sense of what they had done. How did the Founding Fathers want this new nation to be different and what were the abuses and mistreatment they found under English rule that needed to be corrected?

There are seven Articles I the Constitution that give us direction today:

Article I (1) The Legislative Branch

A long part with 10 sections, creates the Congress to make laws, divides Congress into a Senate and House of Representatives, makes rules for election of members, gives some powers to Congress, limits other powers Article II (2) The Executive Branch Sets up the presidency and vice presidency to carry out or execute the laws, election rules, powers of the president, how to impeach Article III (3) The Judicial Branch Sets up the Supreme Court, duties and powers of Supreme Court and federal courts, power of judicial review, defines treason Article IV (4) The States Creates rules for states to get along with other states, guarantees to states, admitting states to the Union Article V (5) Making Amendments How to add amendments to the Constitution Article VI (6) Supreme Law of the Land The Constitution is the highest law of the land Article VII (7) Ratification The Constitution became effective when 9 out of 13 states approved it

This is where the Founding Fathers were inspired to create a way of governing and living that was completely new to history. We are the inheritors of that vision.

The Constitution contains six big ideas, new to the understanding of government: limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, and popular sovereignty.

A few definitions are helpful. Republicanism is defined as one in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people.

Federalism of means that power is divided between the national government and states or local governments.

No document can ever be seen as addressing all the needs and situations that develop and need resolution. Article V (5) shows how the Constitution could be amended to reflect changing needs. Since its adoption, there have been twenty-seven amendments added. Each address new issues to “establish justice…promote the general Welfare”.

But what does this mean for us today? Very simply we do not know where we are going if we don’t know where we have been. A lack of understanding of our foundational values can potentially lead us in a wrong direction.

Issues arise and we must know the wisdom of the Constitution. May I suggest you read the Constitution and the Amendments, whether in school or at home. You will be an even better citizen if you do.

--Father Mark Kusmirek is pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Madisonville.

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