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Epic Civics FAIL at Juneau Cathedral

Although I no longer self-identify as Catholic, I do attend mass at our local cathedral when my wife is lectoring.

Today our priest gave a patriotic themed sermon. Towards the beginning and end of his homily, he said words to the effect of:

You know why they keep the Constitution in a sealed box? To keep it from being edited. Like our sacred texts, we have not nor should we edit our Constitution.

I admit this is a paraphrase, but I’m positive I have the meaning down. As a former government documents librarian and as the author of the Constitution Monday series, these statements appalled me.

It’s a historical fact that not only has the Constitution changed 27 times since 1789, it was DESIGNED for change. The Constitution has an entire Article (Article V) that lays out the procedure to amend the Constitution.

I’m not normally one to confront clergy in person on any subject, but I just couldn’t let this misinformation go unchallenged.

I waited for most of the people to leave after the service and then told Father that he was wrong about the Constitution not being edited and that it was intended to be edited. He said, “Really?” I responded by reminding him about Article V and the 27 amendments to the Constitution. He said (again paraphrasing), “Well, of course there are amendments, but the original text hasn’t been altered, just added to.” I responded by pointing out there were several parts of the original text that now have been deleted or changed, mostly relating to slavery and the direct election of the Senate.

You, the reader, can see these edits yourself by visiting the National Archives Constitutional transcript page at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html. Words that are hyperlinked in this document have either been deleted or changed. Clicking on this hyperlinked text takes you to the amendment that made the changes.

The Cathedral priest seemed to accept this and thanked me for the information.  Hopefully he didn’t repeat his misinformation at the 5:30 service, but given the power of his original phrasing, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

Another ironic bit is that most of Father’s homily focused on the Freedom of Religion. This is actually contained in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which was not ratified for four years after the ratification of the Constitution itself (1788 vs 1792). If the Constitution were the non-editable law that Father made it out to be, he wouldn’t have a Freedom of Religion clause to preach on.

I am bone-weary of people making claims about the Constitution, our three branches of government, etc that show lack of knowledge about the documents or institutions they’re speaking of. I’ve seen it on both the left and the right and I just don’t know what to do raise the level of civics knowledge anymore.

Some days I wish I could make myself stop caring about stuff like this. But I can’t. So I go on. Occupational hazard of getting government documents into your blood, I guess.



12 Responses

  1. I admire you for speaking to the priest. It takes courage and I am glad that you did it. Words are important. I wish that there could be a complete separation of church and state. I always dislike it when a priest or minister speaks about political matters.

  2. Hi Carol, thanks for your kind words. I think there is a place for a priest or minister to speak about political matters as long as he or she is not partisan in doing so. Members of clergy have been import voices against torture, for example. I didn’t object to the politics per se, but to the lack of knowledge about the Constitution on display.

  3. Please, please do not stop caring!

    Freedom OF Religion continues to be a worthy goal.
    Unfortunately too many in any religious community forget the other side of the coin: Freedom FROM Religion!

    Why is it that when the oppressed are freed, they become the oppressors? Look back into recorded history, and see unchanging pattern. It is about Power, pure and simple.

    There are times when despair is tempting, but I shall continue…

  4. That’s for correcting the misinformation that, more often than not, comes from the pulpit these days.

  5. The appalling lack of understanding regarding the Constitution began when the basic civics class in high school was eliminated to balance budgets. Now we are seeing the effects in the crazy discourse that only seeks to confuse and control people. Students now receive a civics course in middle school but have little life experience for the class to be relevant. Maybe the problem could be discussed in local school boards. Is there some background information in the databases that could be used for a presentation?

  6. The ability to change the constitution through amending it, is not “editing” such as the recent landmark decision to allow taxing for not doing something. I believe the revolution was started because of unfair taxation by a monarch, and I expect to see similar rebellions for our current government not using the Constitution properly. I agree with your priest, and it was a decent sermon. Perhaps you should give up the “cafeteria” and get back to the banquet Christ intended.

  7. Hi Paul, I would have done the same thing if it was a teacher or politician who made this assertion.

  8. I don’t know about the databases, but three resources that come to mind are:

    1) “Study Materials for the Civics Test” from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (best to Google this one).
    2) Ben’s Guide to US Government 6-8 Grade at http://bensguide.gpo.gov/6-8/index.html.
    3) National Archives “Charters of Freedom” page.

    Let me know if you have a local discussion.

  9. Norma, Dictionaries and Thesauri support my contention that amend = edit:

    amend → verb the rule was amended to apply only to non-members REVISE, alter, change, modify, qualify, adapt, adjust; edit, copy-edit, rewrite, redraft, rephrase, reword, rework, revamp.

    How to cite this entry:
    “amend verb” The Oxford Paperback Thesaurus. Ed. Maurice Waite. Oxford University Press, 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Alaska Anchorage – State Wide. 3 July 2012

    Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amend)

    Definitation 2(b): to alter especially in phraseology; especially to alter formally by modification, deletion, or addition .

    Everyone else I know considers the process of modifying, deleting or adding material to a document as editing. Amending the Constitution adds, deletes or modifies what is written. The same actions take place in editing and amending. Therefore edit = amend.

    Court decisions do not edit or formally amend the written Constitution, they interpret it. The role of the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of laws has been accepted since the 1803 decision of Marbury vs Madison, which you can read about at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/judicialrev.htm.

  10. Thanks for the clarification Daniel. I am now energized to become more active in curriculum discussions. Also, thanks for the info.

  11. You’re very welcome. I forgot to include the URL for the Charters of Freedom – It’s at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/.

  12. One more thing, Norma — the quarrel with the King of England was not that taxation was unfair, it was that it occurred without representation in Parliament for the colonists. Perhaps you have forgotten that the healthcare act, to which I gather you are referring, was passed by the U.S. Congress, in which we all have representation (that is, unless we live in DC).

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