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.
Filed under: civics |