September 26, 2005

Cornell Observes Constitution Day

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In accordance with a federal bill passed last May, Cornell celebrated its first Constitution Day on Friday. Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Prof. Isaac Kramnick, the R.J. Schwartz Professor of Government, used the opportunity to speak about America’s guiding document and President Bush’s departure from it.

The requirement that all educational institutions receiving federal funds from the Department of Education hold an annual educational program on the Constitution came as part of an appropriations bill in the Spring. The proposal was forwarded by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).

“The creation of Constitution Day is wonderful proof of the powers given by the Constitution,” Kramnick said. “One person can get a piece of favored legislation through or the whole bill won’t pass.”

Rawlings and Kramnick discussed the importance of separation of church and state and their fear that the current administration lacks a commitment to keeping the two apart.

Quoting James Madison, Rawlings said that “men never do evil so completely as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Linking Madison’s sentiment to the Bush administration, he said that “there is a strong movement to blur the line between church and state – it’s not stealth. All you have to do is look at theocratic regimes and the results are fairly self-evident. The state occasionally does have to take cognizance of religion, but we’re going way too far.”

He described the teaching of creationism in certain public schools around the country as “anti-intellectual.”

Referring to faith-based initiatives and the Solomon Amendment, Rawlings said, “I think Madison is turning over in his grave watching these things.”

Kramnick noted the dichotomy between the wishes of the United States’ founding fathers and current American politics, saying that there is no mention of either God or Christianity anywhere in the Constitution.

He derided the “litmus test” that Supreme Court appointees are subject to, criticizing the president’s mandate that justices “understand that our rights are derived from God.”

The war on Iraq has been unduly influenced by religion, as well, Kramnick said. Quoting Bush’s “praying for strength to do the Lord’s will” in Iraq, he questioned, “with a president who so deliberately blurs spiritual and secular categories, is there any wonder that public commitment to church-state separation has declined?”

When a case questioning the Constitutionality of the word ‘God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance was found in favor of the plaintiff in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, stating that the word was unconstitutional, President Bush referred to the ruling as “unpatriotic.”

Rawlings and Kramnick’s position is not shared by the entire faculty. Though admittedly representing a very small portion of Cornell, Prof. Emeritus Richard Baer, natural resources, disagreed that Bush has starting melding church and state in a way that the framers did not intend. “If anything, Bush is pushing the interpretation of the first amendment much closer to what it was originally meant to convey.”

The official date for Constitution Day is Sept. 17 – the day on which the 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 signed the document in Philadelphia. If Constitution Day falls on a weekend or holiday, institutions may choose a day in the preceding or following week for their programs. Since the 17th was a Saturday, Cornell chose to hold the celebration in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium at the end of the following week.

“The president has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution,” summarized Kramnick, referring to the clause forbidding religious tests as a criteria for any public office, “even Article Six.”

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun News Editor