Friday, September 16, 2005
BY MONTE BENHAM
The civic duty performed by each citizen is the glue that holds our nation together. Our willingness to do our civic duty is based on our knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and our state Constitution.
The Pulitzer-Prize winning historian David McCullough warned that we are not adequately informing ourselves. He told a senate hearing last year: "We are raising a generation of people who are historically illiterate and ignorant of the basic philosophical functions of our constitutional free society...We need to know the Constitution and we don't. When you have students at our Ivy League colleges saying they thought Germany and Japan were our allies in World War II, you know we've got a very serious problem."
Thankfully, congress recently declared Sept. 17 to 23 as Constitution Week so we can reflect on our liberties and resolve to improve our civic duty by serving each other.
In the 12th year, after the Declaration of Independence was signed, congress approved the United States Constitution. Two more years were required for the states to ratify it. Finally, the Federalists agreed to add a "Bill of Rights" and the Constitution was narrowly approved. If 13 people had switched their vote, four states would not have joined the union (one vote in Rhode Island, two in New York, four in Virginia, and six in New Hampshire).
The Constitution has made this nation's government the most powerful on earth. Yet, with this power, there must be limits. We the people provide the ultimate check on government power. We must understand the basic foundation and the mechanics of government. And, we must be willing to exercise our civic duty by voting to protect life, liberty, property and our right to pursue happiness.
The United States of America was founded on this idea from the Declaration of Independence. "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
The Washington state Constitution echoes the Declaration of Independence. The preamble states: "We the people of the state of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this constitution." Then Article I states: "All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights."
Our schools are teaching the mechanics of government more adequately than they are teaching the foundation and purpose of government. They teach about human rights, but most students do not comprehend the source of rights and the purpose of government as identified in our founding documents.
Unfortunately, there are no civics, government or history questions on the WASL test. State and local elected officials swear an oath to uphold a document (the state Constitution) not found in most of our schools. Each citizen should be familiar with and know where to find a copy of our state Constitution and the United States Constitution.
George Washington stated: "A primary object...should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing...than...communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?"
Abraham Lincoln echoed Washington's advise: "As the patriots of seventy-six did to support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor:-let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children's liberty...let it be taught in schools...be written in Primers, spelling books...let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation."
We all need a refresher course on our founding documents. Initiative 345 will require our schools to teach (and test) on the relationship of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitutions of the United States and Washington state and to conspicuously display copies of the founding documents.
Ultimately, the future of our government lies in the hands or our children. It is our civic duty to see they are taught and tested on "the science of government." For more information go to "TeachOurChildren.org."
Monte Benham is a retired engineer from Kennewick and is sponsor of I-345. He co-sponsored $30 tabs and limits on property taxes (I-695 and I-747), and is on the steering committee for repealing the 9.5-cent gas tax increase (I-912).