2013/09/16

Biggest Constitution Day Ever!

For many years I celebrated Constitution Day alone, usually holding signs in public places. Here is a report on one such day. But with my work and a growing number of others, the celebration has been growing ever larger in quality and numbers of participants. This year, it seems for the first time, we have events at or near educational institutions in every state and the District of Columbia, announced through websites. Last year many such events were low-profile, involving only members of educational and civic groups, with little outreach to the public. This year the public is everywhere invited and there is media coverage before, during, and after the events.

We have collected as many such events as we could find at http://constitution-day.org/events

In 2004 Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) got an amendment to the statute that designates September 17 each year as Constitution Day. The Byrd Amendment requires that "each educational institution that receives federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on Sept. 17 of each year for the students served by the educational institution." It provides that if the day falls on a holiday it may be observed the week preceding or following.

The Department of Education issued an implementing regulation that the amendment "applies to all educational institutions receiving federal funding, not only those receiving funding from the Department." So a grant from the National Institutes of Health or the National Endowment for the Humanities (which also offers grants specifically for Constitution Day celebrations) are at risk of being forfeited if a recipient fails to observe Constitution Day as the amendment provides.

What you might do

Call all the schools in your area that probably receive federal funds and ask them what they are doing to comply with the statute to hold constitution day celebrations. If they are doing nothing, or very little, suggest that they could lose federal funding if they don't comply, and follow up with a letter to the Department of Education, Office of the Inspector General, informing them the school is not in compliance, together with an online complaint, and that the school should be reviewed for whether federal funding should be discontinued. Send a copy to the school. Then follow up to see if an event is being organized.

Some have criticized me for promoting this event by leveraging the federal funds pressure, and even argued that the Byrd requirement for constitution day celebrations is unconstitutional. Others have argued that it does not go far enough.

Schools differ widely in how much they teach the Constitution. In many colleges it is possible to get a bachelor's degree without ever encountering anything on it. In some states, including those that follow the Texas model for non-AP high school students, the last exposure to the Constitution is in the 8th grade, with nothing about it in later years. The AP students do get more on it, but they typically comprise less than 30% of the students, those on a track to college. Sometimes as few as 15%.

Consider how much law students get. Some material on court decisions, but very little if anything on constitutional history and theory. One could get a JD with the impression that the Constitution is nothing but what judges say it is, and with little insight into how little most judges know about it.

Actually there is constitutional authority for requiring such instruction, Art. I. Sec. 8 Cl. 16: "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;" There is not even a need for a nexus to federal funding. The duties of militia include law enforcement, militia is everyone, including schoolchildren, and that therefore militia training properly includes training in law, especially the Constitution.

The legislative history of the Byrd Amendment is that he wanted to be more specific about instructional content, but that was as much as he could get through without debate that would stir opposition.

Now granted that many of the higher-tier educational institutions are underrepresented in this celebration, which seems to track the dominance of them by ideologically "progressive" academics who are trying to undermine the  Constitution as it was originally meant and understood, still it provides an opportunity to advance the cause of constitutional compliance by vigorously participating and working to make next and succeeding years even greater. We are even seeing the emergence of state constitution day committees in several states that are working to do just that. We need to take advantage of every opportunity for leveraging change that we can.

There are three noteworthy events in Austin, Texas, this year, two on September 17. One is a rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 1:00 PM, and the second is a meetup at the Old Quarry Branch Library at 6:30 PM, for lecture and discussion. The following week, on Sep. 24, is perhaps the most outstanding such event in the nation, sponsored by Austin Community College, in which hundreds of students will discuss and debate a list of constitutional issues in a public forum. Details are to be found through the events link above.

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