Opinion

Constitution needs defense

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. —  For more than two centuries, the Constitution has been the guarantor of our liberties as Americans. That has been possible only because our leaders, with rare exceptions, have been loyal to it.

The late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia felt very strongly about that. During his storied career, he from time to time felt compelled to remind presidents, both Democrat and Republican, of their duty to the nation’s basic document of government. Byrd carried a copy of the Constitution with him at all times.

He was concerned enough about the Constitution that in 2004, he established a national observance, Constitution Day. By act of Congress, it is Sept. 17 of each year.

Byrd’s intent was twofold. He wanted Americans to celebrate the Constitution as part of our heritage.

But Byrd recognized the Constitution is more than history. It is critical to our lives as free, prosperous people. Yet few people seem to know much about it. Fewer still understand it.

In writing language for the Constitution Day legislation, Byrd inserted stipulations the day should be used by schools and government offices as a special occasion on which to educate Americans about the fundamental law of our land.

Evidence such education is needed, perhaps more than ever in our history, abounds.

For Byrd, the Constitution was a set of rules by which to live – and with which to limit the power of government over us.

For too many politicians – including, yes, our current president – the Constitution is a document to be questioned, evaded and sometimes ignored. Some of its basic guarantees, such as those of freedom of speech and religion as well as of privacy and the right to keep and bear arms, are outmoded, politicians of that stripe assure us.

They are not, of course. The nation’s founders, with foresight for which they receive too little credit, understood that without firm defense of constitutional liberties, we Americans risk becoming mere subjects of whatever politicians happen to be in power.

Today, then, it is imperative we do more than celebrate the Constitution. Reaffirming our determination to defend it is critical, too. Byrd himself put it well. For Americans, he said, “There is nothing more important than the Constitution.”

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