In case you missed the political jabbing recently, on Thursday, January 6, 2011, the 112th Congress did something that no other Congress has done in the last 221 years: they read the Constitution aloud on the floor of the House. Shocking, isn’t it? And yet, those to the left cried foul. Why would precious dollars be wasted so that members of the House could read aloud a document they all already know? Was this the Tea Party candidates’ way of showing their voters they had won? How much money was being wasted to take the hour and a half to do this? According to Peter Keating (co-author of “The Cost of No.”), nearly $1.1 million. However, there was no extra cost to read the Constitution so really what Keating has calculated is the cost for the Congress to run for an hour and a half, complete with charges for housekeeping. If we’re going to question the cost of reading a document vital to our history, past, present and future, should we not also question the cost of other time spent on the House floor? Immediately preceding the reading of the Constitution was a two hour debate. House Resolution 32 was given six hours of debate on the floor. We should note, it was not just Republicans who took part in reading. So although some on the left side took offense, there were others who understood why the reading was needed.
Why are we making such a big deal about the Constitution in the first place? To put it simply, without the Constitution, we do not have a government. Every power the Federal government and state governments has is outlined in the Constitution and the rights of individuals citizens is outlined in the Constitution and its Amendments. As of late our Congress has forgotten their purpose: to serve the people. This is based entirely on the powers laid out in the Constitution, guidelines that both grant and limit. With wide-sweeping actions, our government has shown that they have forgotten what they are allowed to do and what they are specifically not allowed to do. How could this be if they know the Constitution like liberals suggested? Their actions suggest otherwise. Remember when we saw over and over again candidates fumble during election season, asking ignorant questions like “where in the Constitution is that?” or saying “I don’t know where in the Constitution it says we can do that.” It is not enough to assume our elected lawmakers know the Constitution, and that they will not violate the rights guaranteed to the citizens of our country. This is further supported by a change made to House rules (Rule XII) which states: “A bill or joint resolution may not be introduced unless the sponsor has submitted for printing in the Congressional Record a statement citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or joint resolution.” From now on, every bill introduced must have at its foundation, a power given to Congress which allows the bill to become law. If a lawmaker cannot find a right in the Constitution that allows what they are suggesting, the bill cannot be introduced.
It is foolish and naïve to assume that our Lawmakers know the Constitution any better than we do. Yes, some of them studied Constitutional Law and many were lawyers before becoming elected officials. That’s not the case for all of them. Many lawmakers were car salesmen and teachers, businesspersons and farmers. They often know the Constitution as well as we do. Or do we? A poll released in 2006 by The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum indicated that of the 1000 adults polled on the five rights guaranteed to Americans under the First Amendment of the Constitution, only one could name all five. Only eight out of 100 were able to name at least three of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. Do you think you know? Out of this list of rights guaranteed through various Amendments, which are guaranteed by the First Amendment (answer appears at the end of the column):
a.No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house
b.Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble
c.The right of the people to be secure in their effects against unreasonable search and seizures shall not be violated
d.The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people
e.Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press
This is why we are dedicating a series to the Constitution, and specifically the Amendments. You should know your rights. We cannot emphasize this enough- those who do not know their rights have no rights. No, we’re not going to reproduce the Constitution in its entirety for you here. If you would like to read the Constitution, you can find it here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html. The Heritage Foundation is also offering a free pocket-sized copy of the Constitution by filling out a request on their website. The link is: http://www.askheritage.org/free-pocket-constitution/. We don’t claim to be experts, but we will be your guide. Look for these articles online weekly. The need to know your rights extends beyond the US Government and also applies to the governing body of UNC. Surprised? Although students sign an agreement to follow the Student Honor Code, many are unaware that UNC had its own Consitution. The 181 page document is called the “Student Code.” Although I’ve been unable to interview those students running for Student Government offices here on campus, I’d be surprised to learn if any of them have read the Code in its entirety. As we dig into the US Constitution and Amendments, we’ll also be taking an in-depth look at UNC’s Constitution. You may be surprised by what we uncover.
As for those answers, the first Amendment guarantees: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” So answers b and d.