The United States Constitution was born on September 17, 1787 when signed by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It will be 236 years old this September 17th which is “CONSTITUTION DAY”, our annual national observance commemorating its creation and celebrating American citizenship.
Knowledge of our Constitution begins with the Constitution itself. The Preamble states six secular reasons our nation was founded by and for “We the People”. James Madison, “Father of the Constitution”, proclaimed “This is derived from the superior power of the people.” (public speech, June 6, 1788). The secular Constitution establishes our independent republic and democratic government.
The Constitution provides three separate and equal government branches for check and balance on power. The legislative branch enacts laws (Article I), executive branch executes laws (Article II), and judicial branch interprets laws (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 subsequent 17 amendments provide our individual liberties. The 14th Amendment guarantees all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and citizens of the state where they reside.
Many Americans do not know what our Constitution provides regarding religion (Pew Research). The Constitution contains no religious deity reference or acknowledgment. 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 religious liberties by forbidding our government from passing laws “respecting” (i.e. favoring) establishments of religion or “prohibiting” (i.e. preventing) free exercises of religion. 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 advocated by 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 historic 1948 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 any higher authority (emperor, monarch, dictator, deity, religion, scripture, etc). Early American colonists fled Europe for freedom from and of religion. When independence was declared in 1776, less than 20% of colonists belonged to religion establishments. There were no public prayers opening or closing 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). America is a nation of belief independence, freedom and diversity.
Our Constitution created a secular republic 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 (with many Founders) and signed by 2nd President John Adams.
World history records the human harm when government and religion combine. Separation of church and state (i.e. religion and government) is a principle of freedom and independence originating in Europe during the Protestant Reformation (16th Century) and Age of Enlightenment (17th-18th Century) when the great thinkers challenged the tyranny of the church and divine right of kings. Most Americans (73%) believe religion should be separate from government (Pew Research). Jesus even separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17). Most state constitutions also provide for separation of church and state.
It is historically important to note Native-American contribution to the Constitution 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.
The constitutional freedoms of American citizens have been established and expanded for 236 years and now a regressive religious minority of Christian Nationalists with the aid of predatory 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.
“The Constitution is a guide which I will never abandon.” – George Washington, “Father of Our Country” (public letter, June 22, 1792)
Brigadier General, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review & US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation