Happy Constitution Day!


By Joel P. Engardio

September 17 doesn’t get much love. Yet it’s a day that should be as celebrated as Christmas or the 4th of July.

Ever hear of Constitution Day? It commemorates the day the U.S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. Yes, it is a federal holiday and there’s even an official website. But few know that Constitution Day exists and no one gets the day off work.

A high school marching band was photographed celebrating Constitution Day on the steps of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. back in 1974. Evidence is scant of any other public celebrations, according to a Google image search.

Celebrating at the National Archives in 1974.

Celebrating at the National Archives in 1974.

Confusing History
There was never a clear message or purpose for the holiday — no fireworks, no Santa Claus — so Constitution Day was largely forgotten after it was first recognized by Iowa in 1911.

To further confuse celebrants, the Hearst newspaper chain rebranded the holiday as “Citizenship Day” in 1939.

Then in 2004, Congress reinstated the name “Constitution Day” and added some teeth to the law: all schools that receive federal funds must provide educational programming about the U.S. Constitution on September 17.

A New Reason to Observe
Have our public schools been compliant? If not, this is an easy year to make up for it. Teachers only need to recount the first nine months of President Trump’s administration and how much his bans on who can travel to the U.S. or serve in the military tests the Constitution. It feels like the Constitution is being tested more in 2017 than it has since the Civil War or the resignation of President Nixon.

Anyone who finds President Trump appalling may want to observe Constitution Day this year. They can celebrate the existence of the 25th Amendment — specifically Section 4. It explains how to remove a president who is unable or unfit to discharge the duties of the office.

We may get presents at Christmas and a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving. But the Constitution gives us our freedoms. What good is an Easter egg hunt without equality and personal liberty? That’s why we should be celebrating Constitution Day with the same passion as a Cyber Monday sale or the creative energy we put into Halloween costumes.

Best Ways to Celebrate
So what’s the best way for a weary nation to celebrate Constitution Day? It could be a big day for going to the bar, like St. Patrick’s Day. Except on Constitution Day, we stop drinking mid-day to signal the 18th Amendment of Prohibition. Then we would start drinking again in the early evening to honor the 21st Amendment that brought alcohol back.

The day’s drinking ritual would be a sobering reminder that when amended, the Constitution has the ability to both give and take away rights. We must never forget that our freedom is fragile.

Of course, we would celebrate the essential amendments guaranteeing the protection of our “life, liberty and property.”

The 14th Amendment promises due process and equal protection under the law. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

But then there is that pesky 16th Amendment. Before 1913, there wasn’t an income tax. Now we have the dreaded IRS.

Not every amendment is worthy of celebration, but most of them are. And the best part is that “We the people” can continue amending our Constitution as we see fit.

People on the Street
What’s your favorite amendment? Watch some funny responses when random people were asked on the street how they celebrate Constitution Day in this two-minute video produced by the American Civil Liberties Union: