For the 47th consecutive year, Nevada City will celebrate the anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution, an event every American should understand to be as seminal to our nation’s history as the Declaration of Independence celebrated each Fourth of July.
Our nation’s birthday marks the moment we announced our intention of independence. But it was the formation and signing of our Constitution by our Founding Fathers on Sept. 17, 1787, that “We the People of the United States” created a government that could ensure our country would live up to those values outlined 11 years earlier, declaring: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Since those 39 men signed their names to the document, “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” have been added, beginning with the Bill of Rights, in order to form our “more perfect Union” and to “prevent misconstruction or abuse” of powers outlined in the Constitution.
Far too often, our Constitution is an afterthought. A 2006 survey found 22 percent of Americans could name all five members of the “Simpsons” TV show family, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five freedoms outlined under the First Amendment. For the record, it states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Also far too often, our Constitution only becomes top of the mind when controversy or crises arise. Yet it is during such times that we often fully observe both the beauty and brilliance of a document authored by our ancestors 226 years ago, as it offers the fundamental framework for resolving our nation’s most difficult dilemmas.
Our country is currently immersed in one of those great debates, whether or not to take military action in Syria, which President Barack Obama has deemed necessary. In making that statement one week ago today, the president also said he would seek congressional approval before launching an attack to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons in killing more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children. He argues that he has the authority to carry out such action without congressional approval, but the president showed respect for those who disagree with his interpretation of the presidential powers outlined in the Constitution by vowing to make his case before Congress. Although on Friday, as the Associated Press reported, in conceding the possibility he’ll fail to sway the American public, he refused to say whether he would act without passage of congressional authorization for a strike.
“It’s conceivable, at the end of the day, I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do,” Obama acknowledged. “And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide.”
Agree or disagree with Obama’s determination to take action, the decision to seek congressional approval affords all of us the ability to debate, discuss and express our opinions to our elected leaders and fellow Americans.
So whether you agree or disagree with their protest of a potential strike in Syria, a group of Nevada County residents planning to demonstrate on the Broad Street overpass Sunday afternoon — as the community celebrates Constitution Day in Nevada City — we all should respect those who are free to exercise the rights afforded to us by the very document we seek to celebrate.
After all, although we will enjoy the parade and its bands, floats and crowd favorites — such as the Ophir Prison Marching Kazoo Band and the Famous Marching Presidents of Nevada City — it is our Constitution itself that should be the centerpiece of the celebration.
The Our View represents the opinions of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff and informed members of the community.