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Bruce Elfant

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Notebook Archives



Constable's Notebook - July 2008

As we approach the 232nd birthday of our great nation, a recent survey conducted by the National Constitution Center (NCC) found twice as many Americans could name at least two characters on The Simpsons than were able to name two of the fundamental freedoms contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Our founding fathers believed that the future of our nation as a democracy depended on a participatory democracy where its citizens understood their rights and responsibilities as Americans. Our first president, George Washington said that "A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. And what duty more pressing...than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"

But an increasing number of historians and political leaders have expressed concerns that those rights not understood or defended are over time being eroded by ignorance or indifference. For example, only 24% of those surveyed were able to identify freedom of religion as a right granted by our Constitution, but more 55% believed that the U.S. Constitution established the United States as a “Christian” nation. Twenty-percent of survey respondents said the First Amendment granted them the right to own and raise pets, as well as the right to drive. "These results are alarming for everyone who cares about the future of our democracy," said Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, Chairman of the NCC. "The Constitution doesn't work by itself. It depends on active, informed citizens.”

So why does our knowledge of the Constitution matter in our everyday lives? It matters because it is our Constitution that establishes the boundaries between governmental authority and our rights of speech, privacy, religion, etc. We have a responsibility as citizens to understand our rights and to vigorously defend them – especially when these rights are asserted by unpopular people or causes. Our freedoms are endangered when Americans support restricting freedom of the press because we might not like what they are telling us, limiting the rights of criminal suspects or alleged terrorists because of the horrible acts for which they are suspected, or infringing on the rights of a group of citizens because of what other people of similar heritage might have done.

Our Constitution was not perfect at its inception nor at times was its application by our courts. It required an informed and engaged citizenry to garner enough support to abolish slavery (13th Amendment), extend the right to vote to women and minorities (15th and 19th Amendments), allow for direct election of Senators (17th Amendment), abolish the poll tax (24th Amendment), lower the voting age to 18 (26th Amendment) and numerous others.

On July 4th as we proudly fly our American flags, march in parades, and cook our burgers, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and go to www.Constitutionfacts.com to test your knowledge of just why we continue to celebrate July 4th.

"A Democracy can never be ignorant and free." - Thomas Jefferson

Happy Birthday America!



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