MAXWELL: Our Constitution should be celebrated
9/17/2006 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Did you know that today is Constitution Day? It is, infact, a federal holiday. If you did not know, you are far from being alone.
Tens of millions of our fellow Americans do not know that in 2004, Congress passed a law mandating that “each educational institution that receives federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.”
By the way, because Sept. 17 falls on Sunday this year, we will officially observe Constitution Day on Monday.
As a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, I have not checked to see where the organization stands on this law because, well, I can live comfortably with the law.
At the risk of overstating my point, I believe that our Constitution is the singular treasure that sets us apart from other countries, not just because it is the governing document of our nation but because of the basic freedoms it guarantees for each individual.
Unfortunately, if 2005 – a mere four years after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – is an indication of what most colleges think of Constitution Day, the nation’s patriotism is surprisingly anemic.
Lawrence Douglas, a professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College, and Alexander George, a professor of philosophy at Amherst, track our colleges’ responses to Constitution Day.
“Sadly,” the professors write in the Sept. 15 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, “hundreds, if not thousands, of American institutions of higher education failed to stage Constitution Day events in 2005, the first year of the mandate observance – thereby imperiling their federal subsidies.”
To express their disappointment with our failure to enthusiastically observe Constitution Day, Douglas and George prepared a tongue-in-cheek, 12-question pop quiz for distribution on the nation’s campuses to help them comply with the law.
Here are six of their questions (the entire quiz can be found in the Sept. 15 issue of the Chronicle):
1. Who believed that the American Constitution should be set aside and rewritten every generation? (A) The liberal senator from Massachusetts (B) Nikita Khrushchev (C) Satan (D) Thomas Jefferson.
2. What are the first words of the Constitution? (A) “Oh say can you see” (B) “Yo, peeps” (C) “We, the People” (D) “In the beginning.”
3. Article Two stipulates that “no person except a natural-born citizen” can be president. As a consequence: (A) No one born by caesarean can be president (B) Progeny of alien insemination cannot be president (C) Those born in Guantanamo Bay prison must take their case before the Supreme Court (D) Arnold Schwarzenegger is out of luck.
4. Article Two stipulates that the president will appoint Supreme Court justices with the “advice and consent of the Senate.” This means: (A) Senators may ask a nominee questions about everything except what he or she believes the Constitution means (B) Senators may ask any questions but mustn’t expect the nominee to remember any of his/her opinions about any contested legal issue debated in the last 30 years (C) Senators may ask any question as long as it does not bear on any legal memos, articles, or decisions drafted by the nominee in the last 30 years (D) The president will advise, and the Senate will consent.
5. Where is the Constitution? (A) In the National Archives (B) In the Oval Office wastebasket (C) In an undisclosed secure location (D) In Sen. Byrd’s pocket.
6. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law. This means: (A) States are empowered to adopt a broad range of affirmative-action programs in order to deliver on the Constitution’s promise of equality (B) States are forbidden from adopting affirmative-action programs because these make hash of the Constitution’s promise of equality (C) both A and B (D) It all depends on Justice Kennedy.
Although Douglas and George wrote a somewhat humorous quiz, their disappointment over our colleges’ cavalier response to Constitution Day is serious. Our Constitution is one of history’s greatest documents, and we should be ashamed that so many of us take our freedoms so much for granted that we do not celebrate.
Correct answers: 1. D; 2. C; 3. D; 4. A-D; 5. A; 6. C.