Happy (Belated) Constitution Day!
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
Yesterday was Constitution Day. Let's face it. It's a commemoration that hasn't caught on.
A few years ago Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia snuck through some legislation requiring that every college and university getting government aid (almost all of them) have some kind of Constitution Day celebration.
Someone might say it's unconstitutional to make 'em do that! But it is constitutional. Government can and does attach all kinds of conditions when it distributes what used to be the taypayers' money. Although I don't think anyone is really watching, our provost here at Berry is worried enough to make sure we comply.
It's always awkward when Constitution Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday. No college is going to think the Constitution is important enough to cut into students' Saturday, what with football and all. (And a big point of the Constitution is that we have the right to reserve Sunday for the free exercise of religion.) So this year the commemorations are occuring before or after the actual day.
It's worth noting that the rare college that doesn't take government money—such as Hillsdale in Michigan—is usually all about teaching the Constitution on a daily basis and so has Constitution Day stuff quite voluntarily. The usual criticism of such places is that they take the Framers' words too seriously or haven't adapted them to our times. Studies show that real CONSTITUTIONAL LITERACY is very high at Hillsdale.
Compulsory educational Constitution Day activities has been, of course, a boondoogle for many professors. Most years I make some extra bucks giving a Constitution Day lecture somewhere. Last year, I spoke against unconstitutional judicial activism at Georgetown. This year, I'm giving a seminar to some of our country's top young Jewish thinkers in New York City on St. Augustine and war instead.
What does St. Augustine have to do with our Constitution? Here's what I'll work in to the seminar: It's the Christian idea of the person that's the real foundation of limited government. People aren't merely citizens or parts of their countries, just as they're not merely parts of nature. Government is limited by the fact that each of us is free to be much more than a political being.
And our Constitution's silence on God (an unprecedented silence for such a document) is based on the Christian insight that the true God is to be distinguished from the fraudulent gods of the city and so true theology—the theology of the person—from degrading civil theology.
Because, as our Supreme Court once said, our Constitution presupposes a certain understanding of who "the Supreme Being" is, our Framers refused to use Him as a political tool. If you don't like that answer but like God, you can say instead our Constitution presupposes the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration talks about the Creator.
Constitution Day actually has caught on a bit in these parts through THE TEA PARTY. Those notorious partiers sponsored an ambitious and diverse event in the Forum in Rome, GA. yesterday—on the actual Constitution Day. The event included all kinds of music, games, educational activities, and booths and stuff sponsored by local businesses. I would give you a report, but I didn't go. My impression is attendance was respectable—including lots of non-partiers—but maybe a little disappointing. One reason: The Rome Beer Festival was the same day. No, I didn't go to the beer festival either.
Here's a big difference between Constitution Day and the Fourth of July: On the Fourth, beer and patriotism are found at the same events.
What was I doing on Constitution Day (yesterday)? That'll be for the next post.