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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – September, 2011
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
Constitution Day is all but unknown in America today. The actual document was initially signed by delegates sent from each State on September 17, 1787 after they had deliberated since May in Philadelphia. The day was unofficially observed by individual States and towns for decades. Iowa officially recognized Constitution Day in 1911 and in 1940 Congress declared the third Sunday in May was “I am an American Day.” In 1952 Congress changed the day to September 17 and declared it “Citizenship Day.” Citizenship Day was honored for new immigrants who often diligently studied the Constitution as required in order to take an oath to become a citizen.
In 1956 Congress declared the week of September 17 Constitution Week. More recently, Senator Byrd from West Virginia offered an amendment to a Bill in 2004 declaring that the “holiday” is now “Citizenship Day and Constitution Day.” The public law states that public employees and “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.” Ironically, the clause was tucked in the Omnibus Spending Bill of 2004, which allocated funds that were mostly unconstitutional according to the original intent and text of the document!
One of the things that makes our nation so unique is that every public officer is “bound by oath” (Article VI) to the Constitution. This means every member of Congress has taken an oath, not to their political party or any special interest, and not even to the majority of their constituents, but to the Constitution. We are thus a nation under the rule of law, not men. This is truly unique among the nations of the world with regards to our history and it reveals some of the Biblical roots which the delegates drew upon in drafting the document. After all, a third of those at the Convention had seminary degrees, and they were leaders in their respective denominations (mainly Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational). The Constitution was a mixture of all three of these denominations’ forms of government – monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The three together are designated as a Republic.
Over the past decade, it has become customary to try to keep Congress from ignoring the Constitution by requiring that the Article, clause and paragraph of the Constitution that authorizes a Bill proposed be cited. Every expenditure should adhere to the Constitution and should be voted against if it violates it, but the mere requirement of citing the reference has not diminished the spending habits of Congress regardless of how much it violates the document. For decades now it has been interpreted as a “living” whose meaning evolves with the times. Thus, the document doesn’t really check the Congress, for most public officials justify every expenditure imaginable.
As an example, three of the clauses in the Constitution can be contrasted, having changed in meaning the most in the past century:
(1) The “general welfare clause” – Article I, Section 8, paragraph 1 – “…Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect taxes… (for the) general welfare of the United States.” The original meaning was that any expenditure had to benefit all States or it was “special welfare” benefiting one State, district or pet project of an individual representative. Today every expenditure is considered “general welfare” and so the original meaning is lost.
(2) The “commerce clause” – Article I, Section 8, paragraph 3 – ”to regular commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes” The word regulate in context here meant that “all should play by the same rules”. It now means that Congress can control the commerce rather than merely regulating it. Thus the requirement to purchase something (such as health care) is being hotly debated today under this clause.
(3) The “necessary and proper” – Article I, Section 8, paragraph 18 – “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” Originally, this meant that Congress can only pass laws that are expressly for the implementation of the other 19 powers granted in section 8. Today, it means to pass laws that are “necessary and proper” in the mind of the legislator – thus getting the nick-name “elastic clause.”
So what should we celebrate as Americans on Constitution Day? Is there anything Christians can honor in this document? The United States of America is now the oldest nation in the world governing under the same document. No other nation on the globe has had a continuous government under the same legal document as long as we have. It might come as no surprise that the clauses pointing directly to the Bible are either ignored today or simply not followed.
Clauses in the Constitution that come directly from the Bible include honoring the Sabbath (no governmental business transacted on Sunday), precious metals (gold and silver) as the standard for our currency, no standing army in peacetime, the President being a natural born citizen, appellate jurisdiction of the judicial department, local justice, and taking an oath to the rule of law.
The Constitution’s postscript under the ratification clause (Article VII) states “in the year of our Lord” (meaning in the year of the reign of Jesus Christ – anno domini) and it also states “and of the independence of the United States”. Simply put, the birth certificate of the nation is the Declaration, and its by-law the Constitution, and both rest on God’s law in the Bible (the contextual meaning of the laws of nature and of nature’s God).
Now the Constitution is not perfect and it is not inspired like the Bible. It has flaws and corrupt men and women (whether in the electorate or as public servants) have, throughout our history, brought us to the place where we don’t follow the Constitution’s text and no longer know or respect its original meaning. Yet, we celebrate the fact that our Constitution has Biblical roots and as a result has preserved liberty in a way unknown throughout the world.
When the document was originally signed on September 17, 1787, Franklin stated that Painters could not distinguish a rising from a setting sun, and referring to the top of the President’s chair, he said “I have the happiness to know that it a rising and not a setting Sun.” Whether the sun is setting on America’s Constitution or not will in large part be determined by the condition of the American electorate, and especially the condition of Christians who are called to serve and influence their neighbors to become better, more knowledgeable citizens.