Constitution Day-An Op-Ed by Judge Glenn A. Grant
Editors Note: This was first published in the Star-Ledger.
Sept. 17 is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
More than two centuries ago, a group of courageous Americans developed the idea of a new country founded upon principles that were radical for their time.
The most important principal was the idea that their new nation would be governed under a set of laws with rights, privileges, and duties formally memorialized in a written document – the Constitution.
The Constitution of the United States is one of the most significant legal documents ever created and has been a model for governance in countries around the globe. It is one of the foundations of America and has served as a beacon of democracy and inspiration for the world.
The capacity of the Constitution to reflect fundamental values of our country is a hallmark of its success.
In 2005, Congress passed a law requiring every federally funded school to provide educational programming about the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17.
Constitution Day is an opportunity for school children everywhere to learn and think about our Constitution: how it was created through vigorous debate and brilliant compromise, the rights and liberties it guarantees, and the system of government it created.
As school resources dwindle, civics education has gone by the wayside, not just in New Jersey, but nationally. And it is not just students who have missed out on important civics lessons. A recent poll conducted by the National Center for State Courts revealed that only 21 percent of adults polled could name the three branches of government. Interestingly, another recent poll found that naturalized citizens know more about our system of government than American born citizens.
We can no longer expect our schools to be the only place where they learn about the rule of law, about respect for our nation’s history and ideals, and about how to be a good citizen.
As a result, the Judiciary has begun working with the New Jersey State Bar Association to train lawyers to provide civics “refreshers” to adult community groups. The lawyers will conduct interesting and engaging activities that will help adults become reacquainted with basic knowledge about how their government works.
Why is civics education important? First, any democratic system of government requires the full participation of an educated and informed citizenry in order to function properly. This imperative is what drove our early leaders to provide free and compulsory education to all children. Education is the basis for citizenship.
Second, our system of government cannot function without the trust and confidence of the people that government serves. That is why knowledge of how government functions and transparency in government are so important. Studies have shown that the better people understand their government, the more they are likely to believe that the laws are fair and are fairly applied. It follows that people who believe in the law are more likely to uphold it.
Third, civics education is important because the misinformed are easily misled and vulnerable to demagogues, those who would subvert our system of laws for their own advancement. When we observe America’s progress towards true equality as espoused in the Constitution through the lens of time, we can see and confirm that America remains the image of opportunity and hope.
Constitution Day should be an opportunity for all of us to appreciate and celebrate the rule of law under which we all are treated equally. Every citizen needs to gain a knowledge and understanding of our Constitution and our government.
As parents, teachers and role models, we need to ensure that our children feel a personal commitment to build upon this great foundation. This obligation reminds all of us of the success of the grand experiment begun 225 years ago called the United States of America. It reminds us of the importance of civic engagement and citizen participation.John Adams said we live under a government of laws, not of men. We need to be grateful for that. We need to remember that. We need to pass that gratitude on to our children.