Yesterday, Little Miss and I watched the reading of the Constitution on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. She read along and stayed with it despite all the “yielding to the gentleman/gentlewoman” stuff that dragged it on for an hour and a half. She is now probably better versed in our government’s founding document than most adult citizens.
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One of the more interesting aspects (amusingly or sadly so, depending on your P.O.V.) of the whole reading of Constitution is the opposition to it being done. Yep, you heard that right. There were pundits and politicians opposed to reading the Constitution on the floor of one of the institutions birthed by said Constitution.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
The act was represented as a “useless stunt” or a “gimmick” by those in opposition. Just a way for the Republicans to grandstand and take advantage of an overwhelming electoral win where they won a record number of seats in large part thanks to the Tea Parties and their “back to the Constitution” emphasis. Or something.
Aside from the political grandstanding—on both sides, sure—why would anyone be opposed to the government reading the document which establishes its existence and its authority? Even if it is just “ritual,” what’s so bad about that?
When I started this blog in 2007, one of the first things I wrote about was ritual
. Ritual helps to center us, it reminds us of who we are, of what we believe and why. We just finished the Christmas season, chocked full of ritual and liturgy: the Advent wreath, candlelight services, feasts, charitable actions, songs, and stories. All these ritualistic elements reinforce our beliefs and help us pass them on to our children and share them with others.
For people of faith, ritual or liturgy is a critical part of worship. When we read scripture, sing hymns, or recite creeds we are proclaiming our beliefs, but we’re also preaching to ourselves. Sometimes, the person most benefited by reciting a creed is the reciter.
We could use a political liturgy. When was the last time you attended an Independence Day event and heard the Declaration of Independence (now we’ve even stripped the name of the holiday and usually refer to it by the generic “4th of July.) Do we do more than buy mattresses on President’s Day or Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. Even those dates that are most sacred—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day—have lost much of the symbolism that made an impact and stopped our busy lives to remember and honor.
Yet, we do have a political liturgy. Our peaceful succession of government is drenched in ritual, not the least of which is the taking of the oath to uphold the Constitution. The inauguration of a new Executive Administration every 4 years is so full of ritual that books are written about it. The ritual reaffirms the fact that the peaceful transfer of government is an amazing and impressive thing. It deserves to be taken seriously, with pomp and circumstance. And Aretha Franklin singing in an awesome hat.
Even if ever silly accusation about the Republicans reading the Constitution was true, so what? Why not include it at the opening of every session of Congress, in both houses jointly or separately? Like the man in his hour of need who recalls the Lord’s Prayer learned as a child, it may return to lawmakers as they write laws demanding more and taking more from the citizenry. Especially that part about “Congress shall make no law.”