Legalize freedom

Harrison Leonard

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The holiday season is fast approaching and Americans are getting excited. We love our holidays. We observe a dozen federal holidays, countless public holidays and a few state holidays as well.

Few can doubt the cultural impact of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas in our society. But those are far from being the only days

Courtesy of Tom Blackwell/FLICKR

we commemorate. We look forward to New Year’s Day and Halloween. We celebrate Earth Day and Labor Day, and we have holidays acknowledging Christopher Columbus and Cesar Chavez.

It’s currently in vogue to designate entire months on our calendar for disenfranchised people-groups. February is Black History Month. Women get the month of March, and June is reserved for recognizing the LGBT community.

I suspect that people appreciate holidays because they add significance to our existence, but I sometimes wonder if our priorities aren’t a bit backwards. Many of these observances are well intended, but few do anything to enrich our national identity. Independence Day is a prime illustration that we all too often downplay or even ignore the messages behind important holidays, while venerating the silly ones.

This Friday marks the anniversary of (what should be) one of our most important holidays, and most Americans are going to let it pass without ever knowing it was here.

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, a day to celebrate the ratification of arguably the greatest document crafted by man.

We talk constantly about our constitutional rights, but how many Americans actually know what is in the Constitution? Politicians claim to revere it, but how many of them truly know what it says?  For all the glowing rhetoric, our leaders – in both parties – crap all over the Constitution.

Republicans defend the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms to the bitter end, yet I don’t see them show equal regard for habeas corpus. Democrats talk endlessly about the importance of freedom of expression, but where is their support for the 10th Amendment’s empowerment of local communities?

There is a lot of selective vision when it comes to respect for the Supreme Law of the Land. If there is one misconception about our Constitution, it is the notion that it is supposed to act as a moral guide for society. The Constitution is, in fact, a framework for government; it was never intended to be a bulwark for health insurance.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Marshal Harlan II said it best when he wrote that Americans were mistaken to think “every major social ill in this country can find its cure in some constitutional principle,” and asserted that the Constitution “is not a panacea for every blot upon the public welfare.”

The Constitution is explicit about what the federal government is responsible for. It provides precise powers and places restrictions on each branch. And “those powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution,” states the 10th Amendment, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Some scholars would have you believe that the federal government’s constitutional powers are expansive and purposefully vague. James Madison, Father of the Constitution, would clearly disagree. He wrote that the federal government’s powers “are few and defined,” while the states’ powers are “numerous and indefinite.” Madison intended that the Constitution would limit national responsibilities to articles such as “war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce,” while the “powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

I think our country would be safer and more prosperous if we took the Founders seriously and followed their handiwork letter by letter. This Friday, take an hour out of your day to read the Constitution. Too many people in the United States today are trying to erode the values of the Constitution. The more you know about your Constitution and the system of government it portends, the better equipped you will be to champion its values and, as the saying goes, defend your Constitution before it’s too weak to defend you.