HENEGAR: Constitution reinforces power of the people

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

viewpoint-henegar-jane.jpgHundreds rallying around Monument Circle. Thousands marching in the streets. Tens of thousands chanting at airports. Tens of millions stepping up to the ballot box. You might not always agree with their messages, their beliefs or their choices. But these Americans are embracing what has made our country great. In their own ways, they are embracing our freedom and our obligation, under the U.S. Constitution, to form a more perfect union.

Every year, we at the ACLU of Indiana celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17. We are a great country. We have a Constitution that gives us the mechanisms with which to correct ourselves over the course of time. It gives us the values that guide us through that difficult process: fairness, equality and freedom.

It is a great system, though not perfect. And it has held America together for more than 200 years.

The ACLU has an important role to play in that system. We help turn the words of the Constitution into action. But the real work is with all of us, with “We the people.”

Over and over again, we must take to the street and to the ballot box to remind our leaders and our fellow citizens of the core values and dictates of the Constitution.

On the 230th anniversary of the signing of that miraculous, flawed and enduring document, its magic still isn’t in the words; its magic is in the action it enables.

When a roomful of civil liberties activists—led by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman and Albert DeSilver—formed the ACLU in 1920, the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to uphold a single free speech claim. Now, with the work of the ACLU and the bravery of those with whom we have fought, the right to speak out, protest and petition, without fear that government will shut us up because of the content of our speech, is baked into our American bones.

In 1787, the founders of our country penned a document that became the bedrock of our democracy. But it has required attention, revision, care and growth. At its inception, the Constitution left out people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, the disabled, and others from its pages and protections.

But slowly, first with 10 amendments, aka the Bill of Rights, and then more, the Constitution has changed the world’s understanding of the freedoms and liberties government must cede to the people. Included in this document is the exclusive power of our courts to interpret and apply the Constitution.

The ACLU has held every presidential administration accountable to the letter of the Constitution. And we will hold this administration accountable, too. The ACLU will fight for the fairness due immigrants. We will fight efforts to take away the rights of women to control their own reproductive health care. We will fight for full protections against racial discrimination, against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. We will fight to protect each American’s vote and voice.

When we celebrate our Constitution, we celebrate more than the remarkable document signed at the Philadelphia Convention. We celebrate that—as a nation, a state and a city—we the people can speak truth to power and fight for what is right.

Together, we celebrate the pursuit of a more perfect union.•

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Henegar is executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.
 

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