By Greg Markley
Constitution Week in Opelika was Sept. 17-23. It celebrated that founding document in its 232nd year. Mayor Gary Fuller and representatives from the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution honored that amazingly durable official paper. Sadly, many Americans do not take time throughout the year to study and appreciate the U.S. Constitution.
Plenty of U.S. citizens picture this great document as a bulky bundle. Others see it as relatively small. To gauge its size in a format we all are familiar with, I typed up the entire Constitution. This includes the Preamble, seven Articles, and all 27 ratified Amendments. Was it 93 pages, eight pages or what? Drumroll – it came out to 16 typed pages. That’s all!
“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties,” said Abraham Lincoln, considered by most Americans to be our best president. A widely admired Supreme Court justice of our time, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, once commented that, “We have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world, and it starts out with three words, ‘We, the people.’”
But where is the genuine constitutionalist? Nobody seems to be consistent in his or her analysis. Politicians call journalists “Enemies of the People,” because they see them as biased. Perhaps a small number of these journalists may be partisan, grandstanding or unfair. Yet, they are protected by the 1st Amendment to investigate and write as they see fit.
A person may be 100% for the 2nd Amendment, and very knowledgeable about issues or court cases that involve gun- owner rights. Yet, this same person has a problem with the 4th Amendment, since search and seizure has been widened under the U.S.A Patriot Act. Other people get upset with the provisions of the 6th Amendment (Rights of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases). How can they call themselves constitutional purists when they fiercely oppose one or more amendments?
When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured by American troops in December 2003, I discussed the good news with friends. Several of them said, “Kill the bastard.” I was the only one there who said, “No, that would send the wrong signal that the U.S. was ruthless and doesn’t care about the rule of law or our own Constitution. Let’s go through the full legal process—then Kill the bastard.” They liked that plan!
Then there are suggested amendments that don’t get that far towards being part of the Constitution. The most recent legislative attempt to propose a Flag Desecration Amendment failed in the U.S. Senate by one vote on June 27, 2006. In June 2019, Sen. Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, sought revisions of the previously unsuccessful amendment language and that may advance the legislation somewhat.
However, sponsors of the Flag Desecration Amendment must know it is unlikely to become part of the U.S. Constitution. It still has considerable hurdles to being enacted. Yet, many politicians in Washington keep on supporting the proposed amendment. Why? Is it just for show, or to pander to a voter base? For some politicians, it may be. But probably not most of them.
Still, the pursuit of this amendment endures as a voter-pleasing concept.
The 1st Amendment and legal challenges against flag-burning clearly describe desecration of the flag as protected “free expression.” Another often submitted constitutional change is the Balanced-Budget Amendment. This is a nice-sounding idea, but for different reasons, members of the right and the left have issues with it. Yet, they gain political points just for supporting it.
About 15 years ago, an AUM professor told a class that once she asked her military students at Maxwell AFB if they had ever read the full Constitution. I recall that only 4-of-25 students said yes, they had. As military personnel, they were paid to protect the ideals embodied in that founding document, but they had never read it. Interesting!
Perhaps Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” That translated for us means if you read the 16 typed pages of the U.S. Constitution, you will know it much better. And you will be a better citizen, not just during Constitution Week, but all year.
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the past 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has masters’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.