Please use the information below for a short presentation on the Constitution during one of your class sessions the week of September 17, 2017
by Dr. Paul Criss
It is amazing to hear some of the current statistics of American Constitutional illiteracy. In 2014, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that revealed that American citizens’ knowledge of the government is lacking:
- Just over a third of those surveyed (36 percent) could name all three branches of the United States government, 35 percent could not name a single one.
- Only 27 percent knew it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
- Only one in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly believe that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for consideration. (http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-know-surprisingly-little-about-their-government-survey-finds/)
In 2011, a survey by Newsweek revealed that 70% of Americans did not know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Fifty percent of college students think that Thomas Jefferson was the Father of the Constitution [the correct answer is James Madison] even though he was overseas during the signing of Constitution (www.issuelab.org/resource/what_do_college_graduates_know_american_history_literacy_survey). Studies have also revealed that 70 percent of Americans cannot name one of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and 90 percent cannot name all five protected by the same Amendment. The Intercollegiate Institute of American Civic Literacy found in 2008 that 70% failed a basic test on the knowledge required for an informed and responsible citizenship (www.americancivicliteracy.org/2008/report_card.html). If we do not know what is in the Constitution how will we know our rights or how will “We the People” hold our leaders accountable?
On September 17, 2017 we will celebrate the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Federal law requires that all institutions receiving federal funds must observe Constitution Day, however, studies show that 90 percent of schools ignore this law. We would encourage you to celebrate freedom the entire week that September 17th falls upon. Some suggestions on how to do this follow:
A fun way might be to do a quick quiz on the Constitution like this one that is provided by Wallbuilders (www.wallbuilders.com):
- Of the 39 signers of the Constitution, how many had previously signed the Declaration of Independence?
(http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/declaration/bio.htm) (link no longer available)
- The Constitution was signed in 1787, but was not binding until it was ratified. When did that happen?
- Which state was the first to ratify the new constitution?
- Which state was the last to ratify the Constitution?
- How many articles does the Constitution contain?
- Which article is the longest, and why?
- The Constitution Convention met in Philadelphia for the purpose of creating a document that would establish a new government for the States. True or False?
Instructors might also consider incorporating the Constitution as a collaborative discussion in the discipline being taught. For example, in English, the instructor may want to discuss the differences in word meanings between 1787 and the present for words such as “general welfare” or “misdemeanor.” In a science or business class, one might discuss why the Constitution enables Congress to make laws protecting patents and intellectual property. Another business question might be on how the Constitution supports free enterprise. In a Bible class, a discussion might be led on the importance of religious freedom. Of course, the history class correlations are obvious.
How did you do on the quiz above? Check yourself:
- Six: Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, George Clymer, George Read, and James Wilson
- It was ratified on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the Constitution, as specified in Article 7 of the Constitution. The new government under the Constitution came into effect on March 4, 1789.
- Delaware, on December 7, 1787
- Rhode island, on May 29, 1790
- Article I is the longest. It organizes and governs the legislative branch, which was the branch closest to the people and the most important of the three branches. It was therefore given the most, and the most powerful responsibilities.
- False. The purpose was to address and solve the weaknesses that had become apparent under the Articles of Confederation, the document under which the country had been governed during the American Revolution.
Here are some resources that you might find helpful:
- wallbuilders.com for a Christian perspective on the Constitution and American government.
- https://www.archives.gov/education National Archives Educational Resources
- https://nccs.net National Center for Constitutional Studies – great place, not only for resources, but also to buy inexpensive copies of the Constitution to hand out.
- http://www.aascu.org/programs/adp/constitutionday/ American Association of State Colleges & Universities
- constitutionfacts.com Constitution Facts – quizzes, puzzles, quotes.
- americancivicliteracy.org Great research on Constitutional Literacy
- https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/initiatives_awards/constitution_day.html American Bar Association Constitution Day Page – interesting discussion starters for adult learners
- ed.gov/policy/fund/guid/constitutionday.html U.S. Department of Education
- http://constitutionday.cpms.osd.mil/ – United States Department of Defense Official 508 compliant course.
- aclj.org – The American Center for Law and Justice has whitepapers on a variety of current issues, such as, https://aclj.org/may-employees-share-their-faith-with-co-workers.
- https://www.adflegal.org/resources – several good resources to protect freedom.
By the way, we do not have a godless Constitution as some have suggested. In fact, many of the clauses incorporate biblical principles such as representative government (Exodus 18:21, even Acts 6:3), distrust of power due to the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9), and a separation of powers in three branches (Isaiah 33:22). The Founders who were instrumental in writing and ratifying the Constitution specifically acknowledged God in its creation:
- James Madison said, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty Hand which has been so frequently extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution.”
- Benjamin Franklin stated, “I beg I may not be understood to infer that our general Convention was Divinely inspired [as in the Inspiration of the Bible] when it formed the new federal Constitution…yet I must own [admit] I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance…should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in Whom all inferior spirits ‘live and move and have their being’”[Acts 17:28].
- Benjamin Rush shared, “I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration [as in the Inspiration of the Bible], but I am as perfectly satisfied that the Union of the States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”
- Alexander Hamilton believed, “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system which without the finger of God could never have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”
Our very first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, encouraged all of us by instructing: “Every member of the State ought diligently to read and study the constitution of his country and teach the rising generation to be free. By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated, and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.” Read, study, teach, know, defend, and assert – take some time this September to help your students reflect upon how the Constitution has shaped American culture and thinking. In all of this remember to Celebrate Freedom!