Jan 062011

Today, at 10:30 am (Eastern), the Constitution of the United States, excluding those portions that have been superseded such as the the 18th amendment, will be read aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives.  As far as historians can tell, this will be the first time in our history that this will occur.  This is in preface to a new House rule that  requires every Bill to cite its basis in the Constitution.

Like all things our elected officials do, this is being dissected by pundits, political science academia, folks around the water coolers, and by the politicians themselves.  Is reading the constitution aloud “long overdue” as Rep. Robert Goodlatte, who originally proposed this idea, proclaims?  Is it “a presumptuous and self-righteous act” by the new GOP majority as the New York Times contends?  I don’t see why it couldn’t be both.  This is Washington we are talking about, after all.

More interesting than the usual polarizing viewpoints – us good, them bad – is the discussion taking place about how we, as a nation, feel about the Constitution.  Take a look at these comments:  (Bold emphasis is mine)

“They are reading it like a sacred text,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and characterized the reading as ritualistic.”   “You read the Torah, you read the Bible, you build a worship service around it.  You are not supposed to worship your constitution,” said Nadler, who went on to say that the Founders were not “demigods” and the document’s additional amendments to abolish slavery and other injustices showed it was “highly imperfect.”

On MSNBC, Dahlia Lithwick said:  “The way some people rub Buddha and they think the magic will come off, I think there’s a longstanding tradition in this country. We’re awfully religious about the Constitution,” she said. “I think there is this sort of fetishization that is of a piece with the sort of need for a religious document that’s immutable and perfect in every way.”

Both of these statements posit that the Constitution of the United States is not a sacred document, that in order for a text to be sacred it must be unchangeable in nature, and that we grant it an irrational reverence that should be reserved for texts like the Bible and the Torah.

I find myself in total disagreement with Representative Nadler and Ms. Lithwick.

The idea that sacred texts must be unchangeable to be perfect is a uniquely Christian view.  Even Christians who are not bible literalists, see the most well known of Christian sacred texts, the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, as something that is unchangeable and therefor perfect.  Even though there are different versions of the Commandments in the bible, the ones God wrote and the ones Moses re-scribed.  The very word of God handed down to man and you don’t screw with that, right?

Other religions, like Buddhism, Judaism and Paganism, look at sacred texts in a different light.  They are words of wisdom that can change and be added to because they are alive.  Some come directly from the divine, some divinely inspired, and others are wise saying of learned humans.  The texts are used as a learning tool, are open to interpretation, and are studied.  Students of sacred texts look not only to connect to the divine, they ‘divine’ a blueprint for how to live their life in harmony with a higher power or consciousness.

Columbia Eleutheria, which formerly graced the niche behind the Speaker in the House of Representatives.

That’s how I see the Constitution.  It is a sacred text inspired by the Patron Goddess of this country, Columbia Eleutheria. I’m not alone in the belief that a divine hand, whether you call Her Columbia or Providence or God, assisted in the creation of our Constitution. Those where were there when the Constitution was created, whom some Pagans offer (or are considering offering) cultus to as a Hero, had this to say:

“I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”  Benjamin Franklin

“When the great work was done and published, I was … struck with amazement. Nothing less than that superintending hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war, … could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole .”  Charles Pinckney

“For my part, I sincerely esteem [The Constitution] a system which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”  Alexander Hamilton

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”  George Washington

Although the mainstream sees the Constitution as a product of a Christian nation and attempt to whitewash the Founding Fathers as firmly Christian in their faith, the Constitution is purely Pagan.  Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington were all men of the Enlightenment -  a time when the ‘lost’ knowledge of the classical world resurfaced in art, literature, and philosophy.  They consciously and deliberately set out to use the best of Pagan Athenian and Roman law, philosophy, and political science as the foundation of a new nation, not the Christian bible.  The Framers made Rome our body and Athens our soul.  Republican Rome offered the example of a Tripartite government consisting of three branches:  the executive which was run by  two consuls , the legislative which was run by the Roman senate , and the judicial which was run by the assembly.  But it was Athenian Democracy, as exercised by the Demos (the People), that became the American ideal of liberty.

French philosopher André Glucksmann, offers an insight into the concept of liberty that the United States adopted from Greece.  The same freedom that Columbia Eleutheria breathed into the hearts and minds of our Founding Fathers as they deliberated over the birth of our nation.

Glucksmann writes:  “It is liberty understood in doubt and anxiety about the fate of man.  Tragic freedom works in uncertainty, sailing toward no glorious destiny. Man is free, yes—free to learn from his mistakes. Or not.”

Our Constitution is a document containing sacred wisdom gained from our Goddess, a blueprint of how the USA can live in harmony if we devote ourselves to its study and gain the wisdom to interpret it. That the constitution can be amended demonstrates its perfection.  We have the freedom to learn from our mistakes and correct them.  Or not.

Oh – Representative Nadler, I do not see a “ritualistic” reading of the Constitution as meaningless or wrong.  Ritual is a positive and effective way to ask for Divine guidance and aid.  So I close with this prayer:  May Columbia Eleutheria guide our Representatives – especially our newly elected House Speaker John Boehner – and grant Her blessing to our country.

  26 Responses to “Our Sacred Constitution”

  1. I like the idea of the House reading the Constitution. Hopefully, they will start doing it at every opening day of Congress.
    I agree with you, that a “ritualistic” reading is not necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Sometime during the tenure of an activist (“big government”) president his (or her) opponents will claim that the White House lacks a copy of the Constitution. At least we know the House of Representatives has one.

    I don’t regard the Constitution as perfect. If it were, it would need neither the formal amendment process for which it provides, nor the informal tweaks performed under the rubric of a “living document.” But I do regard it as far superior to anything we would come up with if we ditched it and tried to start over.

  3. The U.S. Constitution, created by a bunch of left-wing radicals, is a clear product of the Enlightenment and Free Thought movement. The preamble makes very clear that is was not created or inspired by gods or goddesses (Christian or otherwise), preachers or priests, kings or other royalty. The Constitution was created by “WE THE PEOPLE,” and we should honor it as a sign of what humans can do.

    It’s interesting that the right-wing extremists now running the House of Representatives are spending over a million dollars just reading the document. It would be much better, IMO, if they would insist that classes in government and “civics” be returned to public school curricula–it was deleted under the insistence of the right-wing demi-god, Ronald Reagan.

    • This. Maybe if more Americans knew our national documents and their civic duties, we wouldn’t have complete idiots like Christine O’Donnell even being considered for political office, much less elected.

    • Left-wing radicals? Some of them owned slaves.

      The Constitution was promulgated because the Articles of Confederation were too weak. The federal government could raise neither taxes nor troops without assent of the states. This was a problem for internationalist politicians, who wanted the USA to be able to pay off foreign debts and meet treaty obligations, of which the country had plenty after the Revolution.

  4. Not all those who wrap themselves in the flag are patriots, nor are all those who drone on about the Constitution defenders of freedom and equality.

    Here is an excerpt from the infamous speech that George Wallace delivered in opposition to the desegregation of the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963:

    “It is important that the people of this State and nation understand that this action is in violation of rights reserved to the State by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alabama. While some few may applaud these acts, millions of Americans will gaze in sorrow upon the situation existing at this great institution of learning.

    “Only the Congress makes the law of the United States. To this date no statutory authority can be cited to the people of this Country which authorizes the Central Government to ignore the sovereignty of this State in an attempt to subordinate the rights of Alabama and millions of Americans. There has been no legislative action by Congress justifying this intrusion.

    “When the Constitution of the United States was enacted, a government was formed upon the premise that people, as individuals are endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and property, and with the right of self-government. The people and their local self-governments formed a Central Government and conferred upon it certain stated and limited powers. All other powers were reserved to the states and to the people.”

  5. Well, now that we can prove that they read it (or at least listened to it), they have no excuses why they are trying to pass unconstitutional bills (like the Patriot Act, for example…).

    • Listening to something does not imply understanding.

    • The Patriot Act is Constitutional. I think you’re falling into the same trap as the people who made the recitation of the Constitution mandatory: that if whatever you don’t like isn’t expressly found in the Constitution, it’s automatically unconstitutional, which IMO, is just plain silly, and shows a blatant disregard for what’s written in the Constitution.

      Article Three, Section Two of the US Constitution reads (as per the transcript from the National Archives web page):
      The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;–to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;–to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;–to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;–to Controversies between two or more States;– between a State and Citizens of another State,–between Citizens of different States,–between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

      The Judiciary has to rule something unconstitutional before it actually can be considered so. Thus, until the passage of the 18th amendment, slavery was completely constitutional, and specific provisions for the counting of slaves were included in the Constitution.

      Also, it’s the power of the Congress to make any laws it pleases (Article One, Section Eight). The Constitution may be the Supreme law of the land, but it is not the ONLY law. The Majority of law in the United States resides in the US Code, and derives it’s constitutional authority from the above mentioned articles.

      Really, like it or not, “Obamacare” is constitutional until overturned by the Supreme Court, and likewise the Patriot act is as well. Here’s the cool thing though: just because a law is constitutional doesn’t mean we have to keep it. Most laws have expiration dates, often due to the common sense that people and circumstances change. Those that don’t can be repealed by subsequent legislation.

      • Sadly, a lot of people seem to agree with your deviant view. The Framers did not, and they made that explicit in the Bill of Rights:

        Amendment 10
        The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
        prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to
        the people.

  6. Too bad some moron had to ruin the solemnity of the event…
    “Thursday’s reading was marked by a separate controversy as well — the notorious and spurious claim that the president is not a citizen. A spectator shouted “Except Obama! Except Obama!” when Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey was reading the part of the Constitution that says: “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

    While I definitely think all of elected officials should be required to read the Constitution, when it comes to *some* of the Tea Party folks, Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride pops into my head: “I do not think it means what you think it means.” There’s no direct support in the Constitution for many of their pet positions, and no direct prohibition of many of their pet peeves. For instance, there is absolutely nothing which would prohibit a national healthcare system. (Which is far from what Obama/Congress gave us anyways…)

    I also support the return of Civics classes to public schools everywhere. (A little more emphasis on reading comprehension skills and nuance wouldn’t hurt either.) So long as the textbooks aren’t created by the same nuts in Texas who want to omit Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of our nation.

    At any rate, I’d definitely prefer more Congresspersons to see the Constitution as a “sacred text” than trying to force their own sacred religious texts on us via their legislative capacities! May they all pay special attention to that whole Establishment clause thing! LOL

  7. The Commerce Clause is not sacred.

    The First Amendment is.

    • Oooh. Well said.

      I think you could make a nice case for most of the Bill of Rights, actually. But, yeah. It’s not the document’s every semicolon and apostrophe… but a few specific, pointed words and phrases do either rise to the level of the sacred, or approach it.

      • Definitely the whole Bill of Rights. And then the 13th, 14th & 14th Amendments, and then the 19th (Women’s Suffrage) and the 24th (abolishing the Poll Tax).

        As a Dionysian I would also argue for inclusion of the 21st Amendment (repealing prohibition).

        As an inveterate optimist I would also include the ERA.

        • Be it noted that the Bill of Rights was not part of the core text as promulgated, but something the Framers had to agree to, to get it ratified by the states. They had pondered and rejected an enumeration of rights at the 1787 convention on the grounds (according to the Federalist Papers) that a government granted only limited powers would be unable to aggrandize itself into a violation of basic rights. Not their sharpest moment.

          • It is our rights and liberties that are sacred, not our feeble human attempts at lawmaking. The way in which things unfolded in 1789 well illustrates that.

            The Commerce Clause, and most of the unamended Constitution, is primarily concerned with property rights, not the rights and liberties of individuals (well, except for “propertied” individuals).

            In my opinion the Bill of Rights (and those other Amendments I listed) rise to the level of being sacred because they are clear and forceful declarations of basic rights and liberties. What it says is sacred.

            But here is the Commerce Clause:
            “[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”

            This is not a statement of some sacred, universal principle. It is way of doing business. Nothing more.

          • It’s often the case that what is best in any human endeavor does not rise up on our first try. Yes, I remember learning about the separate process that was required to incorporate the Bill of Rights.

            As with the whole idea of “freedom”–something we’re still working out, and which so many in the generation that gave us the Constitution were quite able to wax enthusiastic for with no sense of the irony of denying it to women and slaves–a lot of what is best in us is not what we create in our first draft.

            (The revision process can be a bitch…)

  8. Well-put. I have no problem with public ritual and agree this should be done at the opening of every session of Congress.

    That said I think they should have read the WHOLE thing including the parts later removed or changed by subsequent amendments. The Constitution is a living document and that should be reflected by reading all of it to show the changes the Constitution has undergone to meet the needs of the people. We should love that which we stand for with both eyes open, not while wearing rose-colored glasses.

    • Ryan, the virtue of omitting text later effaced by amendment is that they were reading the document under which they actually govern.

      • And the down side is that doing so gives the impression that the document arrived whole, perfectly formed, one day in 1789. *shrug*

        In truth, decontextualizing anything runs some risks.

    • I agree completely. A ritual reading of the Constitution by and in the Congress it establishes is a fitting beginning to a session, and that reading should include the whole, including the text removed or superseded through later action under its authority. That would still assert the rule under which Congress is operating while also reminding us of the process establishing the rule and the living history therein represented.

  9. It’s nice that they’re doing it, but for all the wrong reasons. This is just politicking and shows no real regard for the spirit of the Constitution. Now, why we even have the thing anymore is beyond me, it’s got too many rights and too few responsibilities. It spits in the face of Athenian democracy by giving citizenship to everyone, which debases the political process and devalues the whole system.

  10. I have to disagree with the author on the fact that the constitution is perfect. If it were, it would never need to be amended in any way! Enough with this reverence of things written in the past! It’s a document used to found our country and should be respected. But the people who wrote were no more special than we are today. Sure, read the constitution and make an effort to understand it. But, like the Bible, know that our own individual perspectives and prejudices will color how we interpret it. After all, how is it that a conservative and a liberal can both read the amendment about gun ownership and yet come to 2 different conclusions?

    To the author’s point about the Constitution being divinely inspired: I respect your opinion, but I’ve lived a life mostly as a Christian and I’ve seen the destruction and oppression caused by following the Bible in this same way. We must remember that it is never the actual paper or book written this is sacred, but it is the lessons contained therein. The Constitution is not sacred but it is our freedoms and rights that are. The Bible isn’t even sacred but it is the message of love, forgivness and redemption that is sacred. It’s a fine line to walk. I don’t believe the Constitution should be read each meeting of Congress. Why? Because everyone will eventually quit paying attention–that’s human. People will doze off, not show up, sleep in. It isn’t any different than requiring the Bible be read in schools. Unless you’re going to follow up that reading with some sort of in-depth discussion and study, don’t bother. It’s just all a show and serves no one.

    • One thing about polytheists and divine inspiration–there’s not necessarily the same connotation of infallibility you may have been used to from your Christian days. There’s a lot of divine inspiration running around the Pagan community… and yet, we are mainly aware that we are responsible for the gods we choose to worship.

      Seeing something as sacred–whether a document, a human life, or a snail darter–need not cause destruction or oppression in its name.

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