Is the Constitution a “Sacred Text” for a secular government?

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American-Constitution There are voices in Congress complaining about the Constitution. One of them went so far as to decry “They are reading it like a sacred text.” Should that kind of attitude raise eyebrows? Read on after the break. I picked up the Washington Post yesterday morning, as I do every weekday, to plow through the stories of the day and make sure I haven’t missed anything about what’s going on in the world. It’s a heady time. There’s a new Congress starting, a prominent Moderate in Pakistan got assassinated, and of course it’s playoff season. I don’t usually expect to see a political story that will catch my interest in the Style section, it’s more like a sorbet course to cleanse the palette before moving on to weightier topics, but I ran across an article entitled “Reading Between the Constitution’s Lines” by Jason Horowitz. The article goes on to question whether the reading of the Constitution by the new Congress and the quasi-fetishistic worship of the document by a new, growing political group of Tea Partiers and others constitutes (no pun intended) a religious treatment equal to the reverential status accorded Holy Texts such as the Torah, Bible or Koran. What really jumped out at me though, were a couple of quotes from Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) the previous Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. I will repeat both of them here:
“They are reading it like a sacred text…”
“[the Constitution is] a long, dry, boring document with details about how Congress will have the power to lay imposts and taxes”
I believe that this is illustrative of one of several of the fundamental problems existing today, and problems that run counter to the basic principles of The American Legion. I guess I’m not in step with Representative Nadler. I *do* believe that the Constitution is sacred. I, like every member of The Legion and of the Armed Forces-and here’s a fun one-every member of Congress-took an oath to protect and defend this Constitution, which I intend to attempt humbly with the words that follow. (Side Note: Congressional members swear to “protect and defend”, the President swears to “preserve, protect and defend” and members of the Armed Forces swear to “support and defend”) The Constitution is arguably the equivalent of Holy text for a secular nation. Much like many other modern democracies, the United States is a nation that allows for the freedom of religion (which stems from the magical Constitution) without establishing a state religion. The religion, if there was to be one, is a dedication to Reason-that rational men and women can operate a Nation dedicated to the founding principles. The Constitution is the cornerstone of those principles. It was a much fought over document, elegant in its simplicity, which provides the operating manual for the life of this country much as a religious text (or a dedication to the scientific method for an atheistic scientist) is the operating manual for an individual’s life. Interestingly, while it has antecedents in such documents as the Magna Carta, it truly is the Ur text of the notion of a secular, democratic nation such as this. Nobody had done this before. While it wasn’t the first operating manual for the US (that really being the Articles of Confederation) it’s still the equivalent of hitting a grand slam home run in your first at bat. This is a document that every nation that has followed with an attempt to establish a liberal democracy has had to crib from, because it was executed so well from the beginning. Perhaps the most interesting concepts laid forth in the Constitution were two dynamics that provided for the flexibility that has enabled the Constitution to live, breathe and grow as the nation evolved, facing challenges perhaps never anticipated at the time. While those specific challenges may, or may not have been anticipated (and certain challenges, such as the debate over slavery were certainly foreseen at the time) what was anticipated was that this document had to be able to react to any situation and keep thriving. The separation of powers, the division between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, and the checks and balances that go along with that division, is one of those simple, yet elegant mechanisms that prevent a slide into dictatorship and the failure of freedom. There is no sole repository of power within this government. By dividing the power thusly, it ensures that there must be cooperation if the government is to continue to operate and protect itself from failure. Ultimately, while there is ebb and flow, no one branch is created to reign supreme, which creates a great barrier against a single person or cabal from controlling the government and removing the freedom intended. Perhaps even more important was the creation of a built in mechanism for review and change as new issues arose. It is not simple to change the Constitution, the amendment process is arduous and designed to ensure that when it changes, people are really committed to that change, but it can be done. The first changes were the protection of what were considered the basic human rights of the time. The famous rights to free speech, to bear arms, to assemble freely, the protections against unlawful search and seizure, against self incrimination and so forth; these are the basics of the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. As time moved forward other changes followed: the abolition of slavery, Prohibition and its repeal (which I have always remembered at the 18th and 21st amendments because the drinking age changed from 18 to 21 when I was growing up), defining Presidential succession and so on, and so on. The appalling thing about the era I have seen in my lifetime is how the Constitution is misunderstood. I remember in college someone complaining that laws against drinking were unconstitutional because they deprived him of his Constitutional Right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Now, his sense of history is as poor as his Friday night sense of judgment, because that came from the Declaration of Independence and not the Constitution, but it’s not solely drunkard college students (which, to be fair, was certainly a Venn diagram circle I fell into at the time) but grown adults. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been debating someone about the 2nd Amendment and asked them to recite the wording of it so it could be parsed and analyzed. The response, and I have seriously heard this exact wording from multiple people, was “I don’t have to know the words to know what the rights are.” This raw ignorance is appalling. Now, fortunately, there’s a fix for that. I’m not a big fanboy for advertising, and that’s not what this is intended to be. However, I am going to speak briefly about something that The Legion does that I am immensely proud of. The oratorical contest, which is what it says on the tin: “The American Legion Oratorical Contest exists to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students.” When I went to High School, we were expected to learn about the US Constitution, what it was, how it worked. Good teachers and good parents pressed their kids to pay attention, because whether or not it came up on a test, it would be something you could use (at least the understanding of it would be important) for the rest of your life. At the time, I don’t think I would have expended the effort to participate the way these kids do. Now, I have much more admiration. To take that interest, to do what I never managed to really do until I was more adult, to pick apart the Constitution, see how it works, and really think about it. If you want to be a citizen, if you want to participate in government, if you want to be an informed voter and help steer the ship of State, this is something you should be doing. What we often forget, in our rush to defend our Rights, is that Rights come concurrent with Responsibilities. If you’re going to be a responsible citizen, know how the government works, then go out there and make an impact. Today, starting at 10:30 AM, the Constitution will be read on the House floor. It’s not a bad idea for students to watch this thing. The politicians who have been elected would do well to not blow off this opportunity and take it seriously. Look at it with new eyes. Pick it apart. Think about what it says. Have the courage and dedication to this country to do what thousands of High School students do every year in preparation for the oratorical contest-try to prise the meaning and intent from this amazing and living document. Hold it to the reverence that those who have protected, supported, preserved and defended it have done. Take your oath seriously. Representative Nadler did make one other important observation, whether tongue firmly planted in cheek or not: "Maybe," he said, "it will be a little educational."
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Maybe its time for a third political party known as the Constitutionalists, who actually believe in adhering to what our Constitution says instead of trying to change it, or reinterpret it to fit some political agenda like arms control. We should still allow for amendments on things not covered in the Constitution like an amendment presently being proposed across the country that says Congress shall make no laws that apply to the people that don't equally apply to them, and Congress shall not provide any privilage (special perks) that it doesn't also provide to the people of the United States of America. I think we should all support this proposed amendment to the US Constitution and wipeout a lot of excessive expense being paid to past and present Congressmen/women.

The Constitution of the United States of America is NOT a "sacred" document. I have read it and understand it. I also am knowledgeable of the origins of thought that went into it's conception, and creation; and all of the many amendments to it. I have taken an "oath to support and defend it. However, it is certainly NOT "sacred". Perhaps "the American Legion" needs to get over itself.

It is the written sacred text by which this nation was founded. To deny this would be to deny the existance of America itself.

Reference to "Joe", Just because the Supreme court wants to interpet it in a variety of ways, doesn't make it any less sacred. It's a shame that a few "loose screws", described by Terry Nunn (way to go Terry), can influence the majority of the court to accept these different interpertations. And speaking of loose screws, do you suppose the people of New York would have elected someone to office knowing that he no regard for the constitution?

Is the Constitution a “Sacred Text” for a secular government? In a word, yes.

Perhaps we should all refer to a standard dictionary definition of the word "sacred."

Do we all really believe the Constitution is "of God?"

Larry Maier, yes feeding everyone is a noble idea, however our country is a republic NOT a democracy. We are ruled by elected representatives that make decisions based on their experience, not on mandates from their constituents. Can you imagine how little (good or bad) would get done if every decision had to be put to the American public for a vote. Our republic was designed as an oligarchy or more precisely a plutocracy. The wealthy and privileged are in charge not the riffraff that makes up the public in general.

Until the wealthy decide to consider their less fortunate neighbors over their bottom lines, food for all will remain a pipe dream.

Eagle275, Liberals are afraid of weapons because conservatives are not afraid to use them (and do at the drop of a hat).

Norman- One of The American Legion's past national commanders was one of those elected as a judge in the most recent election.

In the course of history, never before or since has anything ever occurred that can in any way be compared to the gathering together of so many men of like wisdom, and except for the Bible, never before has any document ever been written for the establishment of, and the outline for, a government which has enabled the creation of the greatest of free societies. Consider the improbability of this, and then perhaps the hand of God will be visible.

I struggled through Korea and Viet Nam defending the CONSTITUTION and I adamantly consider it a
"SACRED TEXT". Semper Fidelis.

Definitely... it was created by our forefathers of this country and should be respected as written.

If the Constitution is so sacred why has the Supreme Court interpreted in so many different ways. These interpretations are based on the political mood of the country and the political leanings of the Supreme Court Justices.

It is the foundation we exist upon.and should be understood by all. It provides guidance, a way to chance it, if needed and generations have fought to keep it ours. It would be criminal to allow a few lose screws to deface it.

Joe- The Sacred Text of Christianity is the bible, and yet there are hundreds of sects based on their interpretation of it, so I am not certain that that would be the proper measuring stick for "Sacred." (For that matter, Shia and Sunni have their issues about the Holy Koran as well.)

The Constitution of the United States of America is a 'Sacred Document' and someone needs to tell the Honorable Representative Jerrold Nadler from New York why it is sacred.

Many people have given their lives to 'support and defend' this 'Sacred Document.'

The Constitution of the United States was adopted as the Constitution of the State of Texas but for one improvement: judges are elected in Texas.

I am appalled at the number of our citizens, and politicians who still do not understand that this a country of religous freedom and the secular meaning of the constituion applies to running of the government and not of religion. I thought Demophilus did an outstanding job of pointing out the differences. great piece.

I believe that every member of Congress takes an Orth of Office, to uphold the US Constitution, and if they don't truly believe in its application today, then they should be expelled from Congress immediately.
The United States of America was founded on Christian Beliefs and Principles-Period! If you have not noticed our Capitol is full of Biblical Verses and few if any of our founding fathers were believers in Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior.
Our Constitution allows for your individual freedom of Religion, but not the overthrow of our Government created by Christian Leaders. If you have a problem with America's foundation on Christian Beliefs and Principles, may I suggest you don’t let the door hit you in the xxx on your way out of the USA!
Really feed up with all the people attempting to change America into their image, which 80% of Americans do not agree with. May you find your own Country, run it anyway you so chose, but just get out of American, or get run-over in the stamped of CHRISTIAN AMERICANS TAKING BACK OUR COUNTRY.
Crosses on Monuments, Christmas Scenes on Government Property [it's the people's property] and Pray in our Public Schools and the Lord Pray Posted in every Government Building and Public School throughout the USA. Plus is politically correct to say MERRY CHRSITMAS.

Now I would like to point out the example of drinking (among other things such as drugs). I am sure that any good person who is educated and knows a bit about the world could agree that as long as someone does not harm another person, that person should be free to ingest whatever substances into his/her body as long as that person is of adult age (Being the age you leave your parents house and assume responsibility for your own actions). Punishing people for drugs/alcohol (under age) is much like blaming the gun for killing someone. If a person commits an atrocity while under the influence of drugs/alcohol, they should be upheld because of what they committed. Instead, the drugs/alcohol is blamed. Even more so drugs. Point being is that people should learn to be human beings and respect other peoples choices. Many religious followers who are very devout in practice of their holy books do not support homosexuals (for example) and seek to make gay marriage illegal and want them to suffer in such a way that they turn away from their lifestyle. This causes the people that simply are trying to live their life and mind their own business to turn away because they cannot live the life that heterosexuals enjoy simply because of religious belief or even personal interest (homophobes, hate organizations, etc). Everyone should be free to live their life as they choose, as long as they don't harm anyone else in the process. For more complicated issues, we have laws.

To clear up some of the ignorance that "Larry" is spreading around.

1. The Constitution makes no mention of "God" or "Jesus Christ", making it absolutely not founded on Christian beliefs.

2. The government does not support the teaching of religion in schools and never will, using the ruling of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Therefore, believing against the school system would be the abnormal way of thinking.

3. America will never make laws that favor one religion or any religion. This is not favoring one over the other, but favoring anything. America is secular.

4. Please do not speak for 80% of Americans because I am 100% certain that they do not know you, nor appreciate you speaking for them. Just to add, those that commit to an unhealthy lifestyle should yield to those that do not. Ever heard of non-smokers having to pick up and leave whenever a smoker is around? Think of that in the religious sense and you will get my viewpoint.

5. It's Merry "Christmas" I believe.

As the Bible is a sacred text of the faithful Jew and Christian, as the Koran is sacred to the faithful of Islam, the Constitution is scared to the body politic of the United States of America.

It clearly defines what government is allowed. It clearly defines the concept that “We the People” are in charge of the government, not the government in charge of the people.

How can one’s spirit not soar when we read “We the People, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Dr Franklin was asked, concerning the Constitution, “Sir, what have you given us?” His reply, “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Let’s keep it.

The Constitution is not sacred, there are many politicians who have violated it, as the republican are trying to do now in 112 Congress.

Just read the preamble of the constitution.

It is the law of the land until we ammend it.

How are the Republicans violating the US Consitution by reading it, or having the lawmakers identify their bill as related to it? What has happened is politicians and judges have forgotten what it means, and now they are being reminded why some many soldiers have defended it, and even died for it. Plain and simple. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that politicians and judges need to get back to the basics, like our founding fathers intended. Don't you just love it when corrupt politicians and judges force laws down our throats that we don't want? Yeah, give me more - right!

They (govt) work for us, not us for them. Got it? BTW, why are liberals so afraid of weapons?

If we are a nation of laws, then obviously we must have a "basic" law. That's what the Constitution is-the bedrock of our laws. If it is not "the holy of holies" then all the other laws mean nothing whatever. As all other American Legion members, I once took an oath to defend the Constitution. The fact that I no longer wear a uniform, in my opinion, does not negate that oath. I WILL defend the Constitution until I draw my last breath. And I remain armed.

West did you not see the swearing in of the new Congress. So help me GOD

Thank you West for pointing out Larry's incomprehensible and revisionist statements. I'll add a few:

Before we had "In God We Trust", which by the way, was a post-Civil War aberration, we had pagan, non-Christian symbols representing the US of A. Check the Great Seal. Masonic, Pagan symbols of the eye and the pyramid. The motto Novus Ordum Saeculorum, which should give the Conspiracy theorists the jibbies, as it means "A New World Order for the Ages"... There are many more, I mean incredibly more Pagan symbols in Washington than Christian ones. From the Washington Monument (a pagan Egyptian obelisk) to Pierre L'Enfant's layout of the capital of the US, using Pentagrams and pagan triangles, to Washington himself eschewing a Christian burial and opting for a secular Masonic one... To Jefferson rewriting the Bible by taking away all references to the divinity of Christ. To the first treaty ratified by the Senate, where it states that "The United States is not, in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...

When I was in high school Gov. was a required course. It must not be now considering the things I hear people say everyday. That's too bad. The constitution Is a remarkable document. It sets down a government that is almost impossible to corrupt because the three branches have equal powers. Therefore, debates must be held and agreements must be reached. The slow process makes it much more likely that the right decisions will be made to serve the concerns of all the people. I thank God for the insite he gave the people who laid it out. The constitution serves all the people. Even the people who were ex-slaves

The Constitution is a sacred document. History tells us the Constitution followed the Declaration of Independence from the British King and their governments. The Declaration certainly describes the Constitution, a document that followed it, as a sacred text since it claims we derive our Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness from our creator. And the Constitution begins with, "We the People". The Supreme Court no longer derives its deceisions from the Constitution, they come from former decisions of there own, called 'precedents'. I doubt if any of them has recently read the Constitution. And, we can blame our members of Congress for that - Have you ever listened to one of their hearings on a confirmtion for a Supreme Court Judge? The members of Congress don't know anything about the Constitution either and further, they have no respect for it. On Thursday, the 6th of January, they arranged for the Constitution to be read in Congressional Chambers. Not one member, other than the one reading and the one to follow was even in the Chamber to hear this momentous presentation - "The first time ever for that marvelous document to be read in the Halls of Congress. I wrote a condemnation of this disrespectful event in a Letter to the Editor in my local paper. I'll let you know if it was printed.

Should we not all be more concerned that everyone has food?

If you take an oath to defend it you best respect it!

The definition of "sacred" is indeed important. The Courts have recognized the rights of atheists to be on a par with those of a particular religious faith. Therefore, their closely held beliefs can and should be considered equal in some measure to those of the religious. Therefore, what we are really talking about is whether there is a word that equates to sacred but perhaps does not contain religious connotations. Why not use sacred? Why not accept that secular people can hold certain words or works as the bedrock of their life's mission? If a Muslim holds the word of Allah to be sacred and lives by those principles, can not a secular person hold the words of a great philosopher or statesman?

That is the sacred we are talking about.

I take offense to those who believe that this, or any other part of the American government should refer to a specific religion's set of beliefs because it was founded, by people who had seen in recent history the problems when one religion deems another invalid, by people who specifically said "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" right up there in the front of the Bill of Rights. That doesn't say-this country is Christian or Zoroastrian or any other faith-it says that we can't have a state religion, but we can't stop people from pursuing their own worship. There isn't a state religion, but stop telling people that they can't be Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Atheist or what have you.

Finally, I would like to commend Pat Malley above-who has written more concisely and eloquently than I could on this topic. His/her post (Pat is admittedly an ambiguos name) says about everything that needs to be said. Well done Pat.

We are not a Theocracy and should not claim to be so. We are a secular nation by people of every faith/creed/race. American Soldiers defend this with their lives. If you talk about 'Crusades' (Christian Jihadists) against American Muslims then your not a true American.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.