Constitution Week: Time to reflect on the supreme law of the land

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Constitution Week, celebrated annually during the week of Sept. 17-23, is the commemoration of America’s most important document.

The United States Constitution stands as a testament to the tenacity of Americans throughout history to maintain their liberties, freedoms and inalienable rights.

The aims of the Constitution Week celebration are to:

• Emphasize citizens’ responsibilities for protecting and defending the Constitution;

• Inform people that the Constitution is the basis for America’s great heritage and the foundation for our way of life; and

• Encourage the study of the historical events which led to the framing of the Constitution in September 1787.

The history of the document

No longer willing to be subject to taxation by the English king without representation in Parliament, the quartering of soldiers in their homes and the closure of their harbors to trade with other nations, the American colonists began to demand their own independent government.

Delegates from each of the 13 colonies convened the First Continental Congress in 1774 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to define the movement for independence. It was not until the convention of the Second Continental Congress in 1775, however, that the delegates were successful in drafting their Declaration of Independence, which was signed July 4, 1776.

The Declaration of Independence established three basic principles:

• “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.”

• “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

• “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

After the Revolutionary War ended in 1781, the Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation to define a common system of government.

Because the Articles of Confederation were failing to unite the states as they were intended to do, the founding fathers called for a Constitutional Convention to meet in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, in the same room in which the Continental Congress had adopted the Declaration of Independence.

All summer the delegates worked to create a supreme law for the country, ultimately defining a system of checks and balances with three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – subject to each other.

Although a draft Constitution was presented to the 13 colonies in September 1787, some colonies found it unacceptable because it failed to address specific individual rights.

By June 1788, however, nine of the 13 colonies had approved ratification, and the other colonies followed suit after being assured that their concerns were being addressed.

Using the Virginia Bill of Rights as a model, James Madison wrote ten amendments to the Constitution. This “Bill of Rights” was accepted, and once the colonies approved the Constitution, they became states. 

The Constitution is known as the supreme law of the land: Everyone is protected by it, everyone must obey it, no one is above it and no law can be made which contradicts or opposes it. Along with the Bill of Rights, the Constitution clearly defines our representative form of government and protects the basic rights of all Americans.

The history of Constitution Week

This celebration of the Constitution was started by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1955, DAR petitioned Congress to set aside Sept. 17-23 annually to be dedicated for the observance of Constitution Week. The resolution was later adopted by the U.S. Congress and signed into public law on Aug. 2, 1956, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Constitution Week activities

Constitution Week is the time for Americans to stop and consider the history of this nation while reflecting on how it impacts the present and should guide the future.

A good place to start is with the DAR website located at http://www.dar.org/. By clicking on  the DAR Museum tab, visitors to the site can view online exhibitions and take virtual tours of many parts of the museum. The virtual tours are excellent and the rooms included in the tours can be viewed not just in 360 degrees, but vertically as well.

The National Constitution Center’s website, constitutioncenter.org, also has a number of resources available, many of which are interactive and should appeal to adults as well as children.

One can test one’s basic knowledge of the Constitution here: http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2014/09/pop-quiz-10-basic-constitutio....

One particularly entertaining feature of the website is the opportunity to take a quiz that matches participants with the founding fathers they are most like: http://constitutioncenter.org/foundersquiz/.

Locally, St. Michael School will hold its annual Constitution Week ceremony on Friday, Sept. 19, beginning at 9:45 a.m. in the school gym. The public is invited to attend, and those who do should expect an extremely enjoyable presentation from the children, (kindergarteners through fourth-graders), who go “all out” for the celebration.

The Acadia Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, will celebrate Constitution Week with an 11:30 a.m. luncheon at Chef Roy’s in Rayne on Saturday, Sept. 20. This year, the Acadia Chapter is the host of the event for all of the Eastern Chapters in District VI, including the Attakapas, Galvez, New Iberia and Opelousas Chapters.

First Baptist Church in Crowley will host a reading of the Constitution beginning at 4 p.m. It will be broken up by article and section and will include the following readers:

Greetings and Preamble: Rev. Larry Evans, associate pastor, First Baptist Church;

• Article I, Sections 1-3: Judge M’elise Trahan; 

• Article I, Sections 4-7: Rev. Peter Joseph, associate minister, Israelite Baptist Church;

• Article I, Sections 8-10: Charlotte Jeffers, Tourism Coordinator, City of Crowley;

• Article II, Section 1: Dean Evans, U.S. Navy, Ret.; 

• Article II, Sections 2-4 and Article III, Sections 1-3: Elaine Simon, retired teacher;

• Articles IV - VII: Rev. Jimmy Broussard, pastor, First Presbyterian Church;

• Amendments 1-10: Pat Andrepont, United States Air Force;

• Amendments 11-14: Michael Doughty, Platinum Realty;

• Amendments 15-21: Peggy Sandidge, retired CPA; and

• Amendments 22-27: Rev. Larry Evans.