We the People: Celebrating the U.S. Constitution


If asked when Independence Day, Flag Day, or President’s Day falls during the year, most of us can reply with the exact date or at least come reasonably close. Images of fireworks, flags, and Lincoln and Washington commonly appear on our calendars to remind us of these and other patriotic commemorations.

Those are all icons, after all, and it’s easy to regard such symbols with affection—especially if they signify a day off work!

Yet most Americans would be hard pressed indeed to identify the date we celebrate the U.S. Constitution, the very basis of the freedoms we exercise throughout the year. Constitution Day is September 17, falling this year on a Thursday. We have marked this date on campuses across America—by law—since 2005. All federally funded schools and colleges are required to commemorate the day in 1787 when 55 delegates formally sanctioned the four-page document that codifies our fundamental freedoms as American citizens.

Again this year at Michigan State, we’ll participate with many others around the country in observing Constitution Day—sometimes known as Citizenship Day. One popular way in which we celebrate the day is with participation in the Bells Across America program. At 4 p.m. the bells of the Beaumont Tower carillon will peal for 15 minutes with a special musical program.

Such beauty and harmony, unfortunately, haven’t always been the sound of our nation’s civic and political discourse, and that’s still true today. Harsh rhetoric, often cloaked in anonymity, now routinely flows across multiple media channels and into the public forum.

So it’s particularly appropriate that our College of Law is partnering with James Madison College (JMC) to offer three afternoon programs on Constitution Day focused on the state of constitutional discourse in America. All will be held in the Castle Boardroom (room 343) in the College of Law Building on campus, and I encourage you to take the opportunity to attend one or more of them.

Law professor Frank Ravitch will conduct a question-and-answer session at noon on law, religion, and the Constitution. At 1 p.m. two of our law faculty will present some other current and novel constitutional topics, and at 5 p.m. a law/JMC faculty panel will mull the day’s theme in “The Degradation of Constitutional Discourse in America.”

Free speech in its many forms has traditionally been honored, practiced, and challenged nowhere more than on America’s college campuses. Exploring this topic on a practical level, Michigan State’s three residential colleges—JMC, Lyman Briggs College, and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities—organize topical dialogues on an off campus centered on both freedom of expression and respectful engagement. It’s called the 21st-century Chautauqua, and this year’s program focuses on the very timely topic of creating a more just economy, including finding creative ways to spur ethical economic development. Coincidentally, it meets for the first time this week on Wednesday, September 16.

Our dynamic society and ingenious political system guarantee that the U.S. Constitution will remain a living document to guide our society. The constitutional scholarship practiced by our political science, journalism, law, and other faculty, moreover, will continue to supply critical nourishment to an informed and engaged citizenry. We salute them, too, on Constitution Day.

We at Michigan State are, in a very real sense, a world community, hosting as we do hundreds of students and faculty from many countries and reaching out to partners around the globe. But we remain mindful of our duties as citizens of the United States and of this institution’s position as a cradle of future leaders. It’s a good time for the campus community to reflect upon, discuss, and debate those constitutional freedoms that we believe make us unique.


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