Constitution Day celebrates enduring American principles
News coverage of police, privacy. elections, church-state issues, legal cases, government power and terrorism detainees can involve constitutional issues, though they’re not always presented that way. Ask students to find at least one recent article touching on a principle in the Constitution or one of its amendments.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed in Article 1 of the Bill of Rights, part of the Constitution. Invite class members to discuss how newspapers use that protection in ways that some countries prohibit.
Constitutional scholars and others admire how flexible and adaptable the 219-year-old document is. Challenge students to show how it applies to situations beyond the founders' imaginations -- such as blogs, electronic eavesdropping and e-mail. Solicit comments about why a document written with quill pens remains useful in the Internet age.
Schools begin this week by marking Constitution Day, a way for students in all grades around the nation to recognize how a document signed on Sept. 17, 1787 in Philadelphia remains essential and relevant to everyday life. President George W. Bush in 2004 signed a Constitution Day celebration bill into law, requiring annual mid-September educational programs in public and private schools as part of the observance.
Books and teachers tell about constitutional rights and their roots, but we needn’t just look back. We can see constitutional issues discussed in today’s newspaper or yesterday’s or tomorrow’s. The original U.S. Constitution sits under glass at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., but it’s far from a historic relic.
Bedrock principles written into the document and its 27 amendments apply to everyone in America and define the rights of voters, worshipers from any religion, people who don’t believe in religion, protesters, people who say or write unpopular things, accused lawbreakers, prison inmates and people who publish this newspaper.
How are students affected? Though boards of education generally have authority to govern school-related activities and behavior, constitutional issues arise in some disputes involving free speech, student journalists and disciplinary proceedings.
Current constitutional issues: Can “enemy combatants” be detained indefinitely without hearings? Should they be prosecuted by military tribunals instead of open courts? Can a president authorize secret phone taps or restrict civil liberties for reasons of national security? Should a new amendment protect the U.S. flag from desecration?
Senator says: “"One will not protect what one does not value. And one cannot value what one does not understand.".” – Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, explaining why he introduced Constitution Day bill.
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