On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the final draft of the United States Constitution, under which “We the People” formed a system for our rule of law that still governs us 232 years later.
That document has remained largely intact today. It has been amended only 27 times. The first ten of those amendments—the Bill of Rights—specifically protect individuals’ liberty, safeguard justice and place restrictions on the federal government’s power. Subsequent amendments expand civil rights protections or modify government processes.
“In our own country, the rule of law arising out of our Constitution is a difference maker in protecting our freedom,” Pond Lehocky Managing Partner Samuel Pond said. “Not only does it allow us to have our liberty and property protected by due process, but it theoretically gives the poor and weak of our society the same rights as the rich and powerful.”
Our legal system depends on “We the People” to keep it on track. Citizens need to be informed and vigilant in order to enforce their rights through the courts. However, too many Americans take the system for granted and do not even understand the basics of our Constitution.
For instance, a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that Americans are poorly informed about their basic constitutional rights. More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) could not name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) could name all three branches of our government.
In order to protect your rights, you need to know what they are. You have rights under the constitution and the law that protect you. Knowledge about the law is fundamental for a citizen of our democracy. The lack of knowledge of the basics underlines the need for a higher quality of civics education in our schools.
The responsibility does not stop there. Our politicians and government officials are too often allowed to confuse the public our lie outright about the contents of our Constitution. We need better reporting from our press about the existence of constitutional protections.
But education really starts with “We the People.”
“Wake up, get engaged, educate yourself, don’t be ignorant, knowledge is power,” Sam Pond urged “Educate yourself and be self-reliant. Know your rights; don’t be afraid.”
Since today recognizes the adoption of our Constitution, it would be a good day for you to reacquaint yourself with it. The National Constitution Center, based here in Philadelphia, provides an excellent interactive version available here.