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Guest Post By Susan Herman
Is the United States Constitution as important as the Declaration of Independence?
Every Fourth of July, we celebrate our founders’ decision to form a country independent of Great Britain. But we don’t have any equivalent celebration of the republic they actually founded – or the document that made us the United States of America.
In 2004, Congress took a first step to recognizing the importance of the Constitution, enacting a law declaring September 17 – which is the anniversary of the U.S. Constitutional Convention’s adoption of our Constitution in 1787 – to be Constitution Day. But this legislation did not create a federal holiday, which would have meant a day off from school or work. Instead, it made September 17 a special day in school, requiring all schools that accept federal funding to present educational programs about the Constitution. In 2011, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation taking the next step by extending the day of observance to a week – September 17-23.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Constitution Day – a good time to take the final and long overdue step and really show our commitment to our government’s founding document by making September 17th a real federal holiday.
You can help by signing and promoting our petition on the whitehouse.gov website. We need 100,000 signatures, which will take a lot of organization. Students who join this campaign will have to do their best impressions of congressional whips, drumming up support and building coalitions of parents, teachers, and other adults to cast a vote for the petition.
Were you about to say: “But how can schools teach kids about the Constitution if they’re closed?”
Happily, President Obama’s decision to expand Constitution Day through the week leaves four additional days for schools to educate the next generation of civil libertarians about the importance of the Constitution. For two years now, the ACLU has been helping teachers and parents with their efforts to help students appreciate the Constitution by creating “Constitution Day Brought to You by the ACLU.” Our website offers interactive educational program aimed primarily at students in grades 5-9 and providing teachers with model lesson plans that won’t put their students to sleep.
For teacher resources and games for Constitution Day, click here.
The Supreme Court once declared in our historic Tinker case that “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Children should learn about and celebrate the Constitution, a document so powerful that it ensures their rights, even in the classroom.
But this shouldn’t only happen in school. And honoring the Constitution should not only be an activity for students. If students, and hopefully many adults as well, are given a day off to devote to contemplating and discussing the Constitution, education and recommitment to our fundamental values can also spread outside the schoolhouse gate.
Supporting the petition to start an important new American holiday is one small way that anyone can show his or her respect for the Constitution. And after all, the Constitution has already shown a great deal of respect for “We, the People” by making us the true government of the United States of America.
Celebrate the Constitution and experience democracy in action by signing now.