Friday is Constitution Day. As national holidays go, it’s no Thanksgiving. Many Americans don’t even know about it; few will attend events to mark the day.
That’s a shame. The Constitution is our nation’s foundational document. Its Bill of Rights, ratified 10 years after the Constitution was approved, is a charter of liberties that has inspired people around the world for more than 200 years. The Constitution and Bill of Rights stand as bulwarks against tyranny; they should be celebrated. (You can read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives’ Web site.)
There’s a particular genius behind our Constitution. It can be altered, but the process is not easy. That was done on purpose. The Founders did not want changes made to our governing charter on the basis of passing whims or hysteria.
Nevertheless, there have always been those who treat the Constitution like a first draft. Some have even targeted the First Amendment. Over the years, amendments promoting official school prayer, extending tax aid to religious institutions, banning flag “desecration” and outlawing same-sex marriage have been proposed, and some have even faced votes in Congress. Religious Right groups have enthusiastically backed these misguided proposals.
In 1998, former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), working in concert with various Religious Right groups, introduced a mis-named “Religious Freedom Amendment” that would have gutted the First Amendment’s religious liberty provision. Istook’s amendment would have fostered religious worship in public schools, allowed for tax funding of religious institutions and permitted display of religious symbols at the seat of government.
The House of Representatives voted on Istook’s amendment on June 4, 1998. Much to AU’s distress, this monstrosity actually garnered a simple majority – but thankfully it fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass a constitutional amendment.
But the Constitution bashers won’t give up. The most extreme among them seek a near-total rewrite – and aren’t afraid to put our liberties at risk.
Recently, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn wrote a column for Fox News proposing a new Constitutional Convention. Cornyn says a new convention is necessary to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. But he must know that once a convention is called, it can’t be limited to just one topic. Article V of the Constitution says that if two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a convention, one must be convened “for proposing amendments.” Note that the word is plural.
A runaway convention should easily go off the rails and begin considering any manner of dangerous ideas. An entire cavalcade of discredited amendments dealing with issues like school prayer, religious school vouchers, same-sex marriage, abortion and others could suddenly be given new life.
There are a lot of good people working in Congress today, but let’s face it, there are also an uncomfortably high number of men and women with extreme views, the kind of lawmakers who cater to the Religious Right. The last thing we want is people like this meddling with the Founders’ handiwork.
On Constitution Day, the best thing we can do is celebrate that document – not call for a rewrite.
P.S. James Madison is considered the “Father of the Constitution.” He was a brilliant thinker, a primary architect of our government and a strong advocate for church-state separation. Madison rarely gets his due. Read about his accomplishments here.