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Citizens need to know their Constitution

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is a combined event that is annually observed in the United States on Sept 17. This event commemorates the formation and signing of the Constitution of the United States on Sept. 17, 1787. It also recognizes all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become U.S. citizens.

Many offer this day with free constitutions and speakers at their workplaces, classrooms and in our communities.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota placed an office in Bemidji to serve northern Minnesota in 2004 to assist in providing a resource on constitutional education and advocacy for our communities.

We appreciate the request for speakers, and constitutions each year but it always not enough.

The ACLU Bemidji also has been in many of our county fairs and our Minnesota State Fair providing education, constitutions and information on our Bill of Rights.

From observation and what we hear, often it feels that this is a day that seems to have faded in our country observing our northern counties and cities.

It is thought that the many issues that keep arising, the misinformation and lack of understanding of our rights in this country are based from the lack of knowledge of our U.S. Constitution.

Citing different sources, it is interesting despite its brevity (slightly more than 7,500 words, compared to the roughly 77,000 words of the first Harry Potter book) very few Americans know about the document that is the cornerstone of their way of life.

According to a recent survey by the National Constitution Center of 600 students, 58 percent know that Bill Gates is the father of Microsoft, but only 2 percent know that James Madison is the father of the Constitution. About 64 percent of respondents know that “The Club” protects against car theft, but just 25 percent understand that the Fifth Amendment protects important legal rights. A whopping 59 percent can name the Three Stooges, while 41 percent can name the three branches of government.

Other studies have also shown that most Americans know very little about the Constitution. In a public opinion poll conducted for the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, nearly half the respondents believed that the Constitution contains Karl Marx’s phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

This is a sad state of affairs in my mind. Our hope is that on Sept. 17 next year our workplaces, our institutions and classrooms make this day just as special as a holiday by providing the gift of knowledge of our U.S. Constitution.

Audrey Thayer

Coordinator, ACLU-MN North Office

Greater MN Racial Justice Project