The Constitution was born September 17, 1787 when signed by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. “CONSTITUTION DAY” is our annual national observance on September 17th commemorating creation of the United States of America and celebrating American citizenship.
Knowledge of our Constitution and its significance begins with the Constitution itself. The Preamble states six secular reasons our nation was founded by and for “We the People”. The Constitution establishes our secular democratic government.
James Madison, “Father of the Constitution”, proclaimed “this is derived from the superior power of the people.” (public speech, June 6, 1788). George Washington, “Father of Our Country”, wrote “The Constitution is a guide which I will never abandon.” (public letter, June 22, 1792).
The Constitution provides three separate and equal government branches for check and balance on power. The legislative branch enacts law (Article I), executive branch executes law (Article II), and judicial branch interprets law (Article III).
Article V provides two ways to amend the Constitution – (1) constitutional convention requiring 2/3s of state legislatures to enact amendment and ratification by 3/4s of states (0 amendments) or (2) amendment enactment by 2/3s of Congress and ratification by 3/4s of states (27 amendments).
The 1791 Bill of Rights (first 10 Amendments) and later amendments provide our individual liberties. The 14th Amendment guarantees all persons born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens and citizens of the state where they reside.
Most Americans do not know what our Constitution provides regarding religion (Pew Research). The secular 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, protects religion from government and requires government neutrality regarding religion.
1st Amendment genesis was the landmark 1785 Virginia Religious Freedom Statute authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison separating church and state in Virginia and mandating no one “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever”. Our 1st Amendment provided a basis for Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declaring “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
We were the first nation in history established without acknowledging higher authority (emperor, monarch, dictator, deity, religion, scripture, etc). Early American colonists fled Europe to escape religious oppression and persecution by the church and state. When independence was declared in 1776, less than 20% of colonists belonged to religious establishments. There were no public prayers during the 116 day Constitutional Convention. Today, less than 50% of Americans belong to a church, synagogue or mosque (Gallup) and one in three Americans identify as non-religious or “Nones” (Pew Research).
Our Constitution created a secular government and not one based on religion. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli confirmed this to the world – “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”. This international legal document was negotiated 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 when governments and religion combined. Separation of church and state is a liberty of free people keeping government and religion separate originating during the Protestant Reformation and Age of Enlightenment in Europe. Most Americans (73%) agree religion should be separate from government (Pew Research). Jesus even separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).
It is important to note Native-American contribution has been officially acknowledged –“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).
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 US Constitution. Fidelity to the Constitution is the foundation of American military service.
General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s top military officer, declared “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.” (public speech, November 11, 2020).
America has established and expanded the individual liberties of Americans for 235 years and now a regressive religious minority of Christian nationalists with the aid of sectarian politicians and theocratic judges is egregiously eliminating them.
We must always remember that we are one nation under our Constitution and it is the Constitution in which we trust. We celebrate with patriotic pride our American Constitution and with genuine gratitude our American citizenship.
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