Saturday, September 17, 2016
It's Constitution Day - - - week - - - yet again. And as we do every year, we commemorate it with a few notes.
First, there is the issue of the constitutionality of constitution day:
The right to be free of government-compelled speech - even speech that is worthwhile and beneficial - has been a "fixed star in our constitutional constellation" for over sixty years. That quote comes from Justice Robert Jackson, writing for the Supreme Court striking down a law expelling students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Even though the country was in the middle of World War II at the time, the Court recognized that patriotism must be voluntary to be meaningful. Jackson did not mince words: "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters."
The same is true now. Though we are at war, if we have to mandate patriotism or respect for the constitution, then we have already lost.
In part, this is because Constitution Day is a "mandate":
Federal law mandates that:
Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.
Department of Education regulations provide that the law:
requires that Constitution Day be held on September 17 of each year, commemorating the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution. However, when September 17 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, Constitution Day shall be held during the preceding or following week.
And then there is the issue of whether we should be honoring the Constitution's inception or its reconstruction:
On that date in 1870, our nation ratified the last of the Civil War Amendments. That date symbolizes our commitment to reconstruct the Founders’ immoral compromise and place under national protection the inalienable rights of all the nation’s people.
This year, President Obama's Presidential Proclamation stressed immigration - - - and included a mention of refugees - - - and also articulated a "living constitutionalism" theory:
America is more than a piece of land -- it is an idea, a place where we can contribute our talents, fulfill our ambitions, and be part of something bigger than ourselves. Each year on Citizenship Day, we celebrate our newest citizens who raise their hands and swear a sacred oath to join our American family. The journey they have taken reminds us that immigration is our origin story. For centuries, immigrants have brought diverse beliefs, cultures, languages, and traditions to our country, and they have pledged to uphold the ideals expressed in our founding documents. They come from all around the world, mustering faith that in America, they can build a better life and give their children something more. That is why I was proud to create the White House Task Force on New Americans, which is helping to build welcoming communities around our country and enhance civic, economic, and linguistic integration for immigrants and refugees. Through the Task Force, Federal agencies and local communities are working together to raise awareness about the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of citizenship -- and to give immigrants and refugees the tools they need to succeed.
As a Nation of immigrants, our legacy is rooted in their success. Their contributions help us live up to our founding principles. With pride in our diverse heritage and in our common creed, we affirm our dedication to the values enshrined in our Constitution. We, the people, must forever breathe life into the words of this precious document, and together ensure that its principles endure for generations to come.