SRU to commemorate Constitution Day Sept. 19


united states constitution document

Sept. 14, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "We the People."

With those three words, the United States Constitution - as penned by the Founding Fathers - affirmed that the American government exists to serve its citizens.

For more than two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments.

The first document of its kind, the U.S. Constitution has not only influenced the constitutions of other nations, but has been amended 27 times to meet the changing needs of a nation now profoundly different from the 18th century world in which its creators lived.

Slippery Rock University will explore the history and significance of the document during its Sept. 19 "Constitution Day" observance. The Office of Multicultural Development will offer quizzes, discussions and pocketsize replicas of the Constitution from noon-2 p.m. on second floor of the Smith Student Center.

Constitution Day celebrates the Sept. 17, 1787 singing of the document by its 39 framers. Nationally, the event is recognized on Sept. 17 every year. However, as the date falls on a Saturday this year, SRU will recognize the day the following Monday. All institutions that receive federal funds are required to offer Constitution Day programming.

Corinne Gibson, director of multicultural development, said the Constitution provides a variety of teachable moments. Aside from guaranteeing citizenship to those born in the country, the framers established freedom of religion and speech with the First Amendment, which have become foundational American liberties.

"Human rights are right there in the First Amendment," Gibson said. "Human rights connect with diversity and multiculturalism."

Gibson said her office would use quizzes from different online sites for educational lessons and illustration points about the document.

In addition to the events offered at the Smith Student Center, SRU professors will use the day as a springboard for discussions and lessons about the Constitution and freedom.

David Kershaw, assistant professor of political science, said the Constitution is not only the "supreme law of the land," but the foundation for local, state and federal government, the legal system, the American presidency and civil liberties.

Prior to the Constitution, he said, most governments subjugated citizens and offered them no decision making power. The Constitution established representative democracy in which citizens elect people to represent their interests.

"I'm a democracy guy," Kershaw said. "There are different forms of government, but for me, democracy, the liberties and the restriction of power in the Constitution are the key to longevity of a political system. We have things we need to change, but fundamentally, the Constitution keeps despots at bay."

Kershaw said a variety of political science students and faculty will assist in SRU's Constitution Day events as a way to pay homage to the document that has provided the framework for so many civil rights advancements.

"The Constitution provides the fault lines for many aspects of American life, such as property rights, anti-discrimination laws and individual rights," said Kershaw. "The biggest debates and the biggest concerns over individual liberty today, such as what can the government do or force you to do, all revolves around what's in the Constitution."

Rose Heilman-Houser, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood development, said she required students in her "Social Studies and Citizens" class to read the children's book "Shh! We're Writing the Constitution" in preparation for a Constitution Day discussion.

Authored by Jean Fritz, the book talks about why there was a need for the document and how the Founding Fathers came together in the summer of 1787 for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to draft the piece.

Heilman-Houser said that as her students are preparing to teach grades K-4, incorporating Constitution Day into their lesson plans will be important. "In social studies, we talk about how one of the major goals is to produce good, competent citizens who participate in democracy. Patriotism is an important value to teach children," she said.

According to the National Constitution Center, many facts about the Constitution escape wide awareness, including:

  • The Constitution was written in the same Pennsylvania State House where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where George Washington received his commission as Commander of the Continental Army. Now called Independence Hall, the building still stands today on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, directly across from the National Constitution Center;
  • Written in 1787, the Constitution was signed on September 17th. But it wasn't until 1788 that it was ratified by the necessary nine states;
  • The Constitution was prepared in secret, behind locked doors that were guarded by sentries;
  • Some of the original framers and many delegates in the state ratifying conventions were very troubled that the original Constitution lacked a description of individual rights. In 1791, Americans added a list of rights to the Constitution. The first ten amendments became known as The Bill of Rights;
  • Of the 55 delegates attending the Constitutional Convention, 39 signed and three delegates dissented. Two of America's Founding Fathers didn't sign the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was representing the U.S. on business in France and John Adams was doing the same in Great Britain;
  • Established on November 26, 1789, the first national "Thanksgiving Day" was originally created by George Washington as a way of "giving thanks" for the Constitution;
  • Of the written national constitutions, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest and shortest;
  • At 81, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, while Jonathon Dayton of New Jersey was the youngest at 26 years of age;
  • The original Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, it was moved to Fort Knox for safekeeping; and
  • More than 11,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress. Thirty-three have gone to the states to be ratified and 27 have received the necessary approval from the states to actually become amendments to the Constitution.

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