Newly elected Republican leaders kicked off the 112th Congress by reading the United States Constitution. Oddly, it was the first time in history the nation’s founding document had been publicly and entirely read aloud in Chambers.
On day two of this congressional session it took about 90 minutes for 135 Member volunteers to finish reading an edited version of the Constitution. Only about two-thirds of Members bothered to show up, many eventually appeared bored and worked with smart phones during the reading, and most had long since left when the final words were read. This suggests Members, too, need to ratchet up their regard for the historical and ongoing importance of the Constitution.
In consultation with the Congressional Research Service leaders opted for an edited version which omitted sections of the original Constitution referencing slavery and Prohibition. Why this caused concern is anyone’s guess, but Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D, IL) and others later registered protests saying Republican leaders were trying to whitewash history by skipping over slavery and the painful politics and war that led its demise.
Of course, had Republican leaders chosen to read sections of the Constitution dealing with slaves as “three-fifths of all other Persons” protests from liberals and/or Democrats would have been even louder. In this politically correct age, conservatives would have been accused of insensitivity, intolerance, or worse, racism.
So, was reading the Constitution aloud in Congress a gimmick? Probably. But was it a bad gimmick? No. I’d suggest, no matter what the motives, reading aloud the nation’s founding document, which has served this country so well through thick and thin, is an excellent idea.
I recommend Congress begin all its future sessions reading the Constitution. Prepare for the event via a bipartisan committee. Treat the event with respect and conduct it with dignity. Forbid Members from reading papers or accessing cell phones in Chambers, and honor the nation’s core values.
A few Christian colleges and universities begin academic years with special services or ceremonies, sometimes during convocations, with formal readings of the institution’s doctrinal statement. They often include faculty signing ceremonies within the program to reinforce the institution’s commitment to its philosophy of education. I think this is a valuable reminder that helps students understand the school wasn’t born yesterday, owes much to those who have gone before, and is grounded and integrated in its approach to education. I think reading the Constitution is a similarly valuable exercise.
According to the National Constitution Center only 20% of Americans know each state may elect two Senators. Only 2% know James Madison is called the Father of the United States Constitution. Scarier still, some 75% cannot cite what rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment. The average educated person, let alone others, is not able to quote the Preamble or otherwise provide accurate comments on the document’s content.
Reading the Constitution in Congress, than, would seem to be more practical than political. It would be a worthy tradition, a symbolic reminder of what defines our nation. At its best, it could become a non-partisan salute to freedom and government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
So why not read the United States Constitution to signal the beginning of every new session of the United States Congress? Sounds like common sense to me.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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