The U.S. Constitution turned 223 on Friday in a time in history when the words drafted by our founding fathers are more popular than ever.
Spearheaded by members of the tea party, the original document that established the U.S. government has once again entered the national conversation as citizens react to current events.
In a speech before a small crowd at Reardon Auditorium, Miller said the first danger is observed in Americans who revere the document as the answer to the American democracy.
Miller said many who believe strongly in the Constitution have a tendency to hold it up as if it were written by the Holy Spirit.
It is not perfect, or infallible, he explained.
“It is an instrument devised by men for the benefit of men,” he said.
In fact, Miller called the document “defective” because it failed to address key issues — including slavery. [AU Editor's Note: In this reference, Miller was citing a statement by Thurgood Marshall in which the late Supreme Court Justice called the U.S. Constitution in its original form defective for its failure to address slavery. This statement became a talking point during the recent hearings for Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.]
The guidelines set by the Constitution are important and warrant a healthy respect, he said. “To call them divine, perhaps, is too much.”
The second danger comes in a completely different package, he said.
Rather than revere the Constitution as a holy document inappropriately, some are using it in a trivial, unnecessary way, especially at the state level, he said.
In the case of state constitutions, Miller said, states have looked to the constitution as the answer to all legal matters, and in doing so, have added laws to the documents that have no business being added.
In Ohio, he said, state lawmakers added an amendment to the state constitution establishing a casino, and then added a second amendment determining the address of the casino.
The constitution also features an amendment regarding the proper housing of chickens, he said.
There are a few misconceptions about the Constitution’s power, he explained.
In the case of freedom of religion, he explained, the Constitution does not protect Americans completely.
The Constitution states that no Congress shall impose religion, he explained, but it does not say that the state of Utah can’t force its residents to attend church.
It is the role of judges to determine these modern-day questions, resulting in the rights and laws that protect Americans, he explained.
Erin Billstrom said she was guilty of believing things that weren’t true about the Constitution, including the belief that it gives her certain rights that it doesn’t actually contain. “I honestly interpreted it the way he said it shouldn’t be interpreted.”
Kevin Radaker said the country sometimes falls into a pattern of using the Constitution to address modern issues. “In times of high stress, we often refer to the Constitution. We want the Constitution to solve our problems rather than debating them.”
Spencer Spaulding said he’s witnessed instances where people use the Constitution to back up their arguments, but the strength of the argument suffers. “A lot of what I hear now seems to be yelling rather than thinking.”
—Brandi Watters is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credit: Aaron Piper. Story republished with permission.
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