Federal law requires all schools, colleges and universities to observe today, September 17, as Constitution Day. At Trinity today, many faculty will devote some portion of their classes to teaching about the presidential election process and the various issues at stake in this year’s election. All week and through the next several weeks, campus organizations will also sponsor a voter registration drive and other activities designed to educate the campus community about the elections.
Is the federal mandate to observe Constitution Day just a curious artifact of some lawmaker’s over-reaching exercise of legislative power? It’s an interesting question — whether mandating such an observance violates the very Constitutional principles we wish to study. While some academics have fulminated about this, I have a somewhat different take on this mandate.
I see Constitution Day as a call to action. “We the People” are the first three words of our Constitution, making it clear who’s in control of the government of this nation. We don’t always act like we’re in charge, however…. too many citizens just sit back, failing to vote, thinking that one person or group or small community can’t make an impact. In fact, in the last two presidential elections, decided by very small margins on the popular vote, just a few citizens in key states shifted balances that changed the course of history. Your vote really does count!
So, today, through all of the classes and activities, we offer one clear message: to honor the Constitution of the United States, you must embrace it as your own call to action. And, the first duty of citizenship is to vote. Get registered. Learn about the issues. Assess the candidates. And cast your vote on November 4.