We live in seemingly divisive times. Politicians are at each other’s throats. Talking heads on the network news explain to us all the reasons we should hate and mistrust each other. Confidence in public institutions is at an all-time low. There seems to be nothing but bad news.
Then we notice an oft-neglected holiday on our calendars: Constitution Day.
This federal holiday commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. And as we all learned in high school civics class, the Constitution defines the structure of our federal government. It is the most remarkable political charters in history.
This may not mean much to the average American mired in modern negativity. We can’t help but wonder: Why do we still celebrate Constitution Day?
We celebrate Constitution Day because that historic document, along with its later affixed Bill of Rights, is the legal means by which “We the People” ensure that the government serves its vital purposes without violating our rights.
Sure, a lot has changed since 1787. The Constitution, as originally written, left a lot of people out. The long fight for equality for blacks, women, and other groups continues to this day. But one thing has not changed: the need for a government that will secure our individual rights and do so without abusing its powers.
The fight for rights is the story of America.
Ultimately, the Constitution was not enacted for the politicians, pollsters or the pundits. The Constitution was enacted by the people for the benefit of the people. It is up to the people to preserve, protect and defend it. Consider just a few recent examples of average people stepping up to defend their rights:
- Erica Perez spent years dreaming of the day that she and her family would own their own home. They invested their entire life savings in an older fixer-upper on the south side of Detroit. But when the family accidentally underpaid their property tax bill by just over $100, the city seized their home, sold it and kept tens of thousands of dollars of their equity. So, Erica is using the Constitution to fight back.
- Mike Jackson loves his job in the special events parking department at UC San Diego. When he learned that the First Amendment protected him against having union dues deducted from his paycheck without his consent, he tried to end the payments. But the school told him there is a state law preventing them from giving him any information about his rights, and the union said he was locked in until 2022. So, Mike is using the Constitution to fight back.
- Finally, Peter Stavrianoudakis works as a public defender fighting for the constitutional rights of his clients. All the while, his rights are being violated. Peter is a falconer who keeps, and flies trained birds of prey for sport. But as a condition of his license to participate in this ancient sport, California claims the right to conduct warrantless searches of Peter’s home and property. So, Peter is using the Constitution to fight back.
Each of these individuals, in asserting their constitutional rights in court, also bolsters those same protections for every other American. The battle for individual liberty begun by the Framers of the Constitution continues to this day through the actions of brave individuals like Erica, Mike and Peter.
As long as government exists, there will be the threat of the abuse of government power. But there is something we can do about it.
We celebrate Constitution Day not only because of the history behind it but for the role it still serves in the lives of all Americans. The original Constitution may be faded yellow parchment, but the protections the Constitution embodies are just as vital now as they were in 1787.
Happy Constitution Day!
Timothy R. Snowball is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation.
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