The United States Constitution will be 234 years old on September 17th which is “CONSTITUTION DAY”. This annual national observance commemorates the day in 1787 when our Constitution was signed by 39 Founders at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It also celebrates American citizenship.
Knowledge of constitutional history is lamentably lacking although educational programming is federally mandated. Knowledge begins with the Constitution itself – America’s original founding, establishment and governing document.
The Constitution Preamble states six secular reasons our nation was independently created by and for “We the People”. The Constitution establishes our secular democratic government. The Bill of Rights (first 10 Amendments) provides our individual liberties (1791). The 14th Amendment guarantees all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and citizens of the state where they reside (1868).
The Constitution created three separate and equal government branches for a check and balance on power. The legislative branch enacts law (Article I), executive branch executes law (Article II), and judicial branch interprets law with authority on all Constitution cases (Article III).
Article V provides only two ways to amend the Constitution: (1) constitutional convention requiring 2/3s of state legislatures to convene and enact amendment, then ratification by 3/4s of states (0 amendments); or (2) amendment enactment by 2/3s of Congress, then ratification by 3/4s of states (27 amendments).
Many Americans do not know what our Constitution says regarding religion (Pew Research Center survey). The Constitution contains no religious deity reference. Article VI commands “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” lawfully separating religion from government and protecting government from religion.
The 1st Amendment provides our historic trinity of religious liberties – (1) freedom from government established (or endorsed) religion, (2) freedom of religion (or no religion) and (3) freedom for religion (or non-religion) speech. It lawfully separates government from religion and protects religion from government. Government neutrality is required regarding religion (neither anti-religion nor pro-religion but religion-neutral). Its genesis was the 1785 Virginia Religious Freedom Statute which mandated “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever” authored by Founders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
We were the first nation in history independently established by and for the people without acknowledging any higher authority (emperor, monarch, dictator, deity, religion, etc). There were no public prayers opening or closing the 116 day Constitutional Convention. Founder James Madison reminded delegates of the secular purpose – “This is derived from the superior power of the people.” Less than 20% of colonists belonged to religion establishments in 1776. Less than 50% of Americans belong to a church, synagogue or mosque today (Gallup poll).
It is fact, history and law our Constitution created a secular republic – not one based on a religion. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli confirmed to the world – “The United States of American is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”. This international legal document was negotiated and written during 1st President George Washington’s administration, unanimously ratified by the US Senate and signed by 2nd President John Adams.
World history records the human harm caused when government and religion combined. Separation of church and state is a liberty of free people keeping religion out of government and government out of religion originating during the 18th Century European Age of Enlightenment. It was intended by our Founders as provided by their governing documents, documented by historic records, publicly acknowledged by Presidents since the nation’s founding and judicially confirmed as the law of our land. According to biblical scripture, Jesus even separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).
We became the first nation to constitutionally provide individual freedom of belief. The right to our own beliefs is a fundamental American liberty. It was a model for the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 declaring “…everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Every member of the US Armed Forces, upon entering military service, takes the sworn oath to support, defend and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution. Fidelity to the Constitution is the foundation of American military service.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s top military officer General Mark Miller in his public remarks at the National Museum of the United States Army official opening on November 11, 2020 stated it succinctly – “We do not take an oath to a king or queen, a tyrant or dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution …and will protect and defend that document regardless of price.”
Native-American contribution has also been officially acknowledged –“the contribution of the Iroquois Confederation of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution” and “the confederacy of the original Thirteen Colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.” (100th US Congress Resolution).
We are one nation under our Constitution. It is the Constitution in which we trust. We celebrate with patriotic pride our American Constitution and Citizenship.
“The Constitution is a guide which I will never abandon.” – GEORGE WASHINGTON
Brigadier General, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Former Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review & US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation