<!-- Begin meta tags generated by ORblogs --> </meta name="keywords" content="progressive, liberal, politics, government, edit, language, grammar, accuracy, honesty, clarity, world, news, media" /> </> <!-- End meta tags generated by ORblogs -->> Editor at Large: Talk like a pirate on "Constitution Day"

Monday, September 19, 2005

Talk like a pirate on "Constitution Day"

Yes, today is "Talk Like a Pirate Day" (arrrr!), but did you know that September 17 was "National Constitution Day"? Well, even if you didn't, you're still in luck: because the 17th was a Saturday, you're allowed to celebrate it today.

However, before you don your festive party hat, you might want to read the following excerpts from a piece by American historian Seth Cotlar of Willamette University (WU). Cotlar wrote the piece in response to an official WU announcement that the university would be observing National Constitution Day today, ostensibly because WU wants to do its civic duty and discourage ignorance of the Constitution. However, according to Cotlar, National Constitution Day isn't the innocent history lesson it purports to be; in fact, it's a right-wing sham. (Arrrr!) We wish we were surprised.

"As the resident early American historian, I feel compelled to contextualize this Constitution Day event a bit. Many observers across the political spectrum have questioned the legality and effectiveness of a federally mandated public celebration of the constitution. As one official of the Cato Institute pointed out, 'there's irony in using an unconstitutional measure to promote Constitution Day' [LA Times, 8/25/05]. Similarly, when the law was made public last January, Yale University officials argued that the law threatened 'academic freedom' [NCH Washington Update 11.2, January 14, 2005].

"What is perhaps more troubling is this: the lobbying group behind the effort to make National Constitutional Day official is called "Constitution Day, Inc.--a non partisan, non profit organization." Its website (www.constitutionday.com) reveals a great deal more. The promotional video they include on the website (and which they encourage every school in the nation to show) has General Tommy Franks reading the preamble to the Constitution over a Sousa march, followed by a roll call of every state in the union displayed over the sound of church bells playing 'God Bless America,' the tune that has become the unofficial national anthem for the evangelical right. This combination of martial music and religious symbolism should come as no surprise since Constitutionday.org is far from non-partisan. It is a radical right-wing organization whose directors include a number of the most conservative Republican governors and whose board of directors includes the presidential libraries of Reagan, Nixon, and Eisenhower (but no Democrats). A few years ago, the group gave Judge Roy Moore (the Alabama Chief Justice of 10 Commandments fame) the honor of leading its annual celebration of the constitution. The 'educational materials' on the website offer a chilling version of American history that bears little resemblance to how contemporary historians (even many politically conservative ones) see it. Overall, the site leaves little question of the politics behind 'National Constitution Day.' By the way, the group's founder is a 91 year old 'long-time Republican Party activist' [LA Times, 8/26/05] named Louise Leigh. Also interesting is that as several states (New Mexico and North Dakota, for example) have made efforts to comply with new law, they have simply downloaded the 'Constitution Day, Inc.' press release and will use state funds to expose students to this group's fairly skewed observance of the day. See http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/news/081605.shtm or http://www.sde.state.nm.us/press/2005/august/08.26.05.html.

"Surely there is value in people knowing more about the U.S. Constitution, but rather than doing so in the spirit of filio-pietistic reverence that constitutionday.org has encouraged across the nation, perhaps we should follow Thomas Jefferson's injunction that "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

"Constitutionally yours, Seth Cotlar."

(Thanks to Colleen Spedale.)

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