Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WHAT IS IT?

To some folks, it’s a sacred relic.

The original Constitution of the United States is kept in a specially designed exhibit case and vault in the Exhibition Hall of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Two pages of the Constitution are on display when the Hall is open to visitors; every day of the year except Christmas and New Year’s Day. The other pages are down in the vault except on September 17, when all four pages are brought out in celebration of Constitution Day.

Our federal government goes to a lot of trouble to protect those four pieces of paper.

Each page is encased in a Thermopane envelope filled with helium and a measured amount of water vapor. All the contaminates in the air we breathe are kept out. And nobody can actually touch the pages.

Even the display case has laminated glass filters and a yellow cellulose acetate layer to keep out ultraviolet rays.

That’s not all. Twenty feet below the display case is a vault. It’s 5 feet by 7 and a half feet and it’s six feet deep. The floor and walls are steel and concrete, fifteen inches thick.

There’s an electric mechanism that lowers the display case into the vault and closes a massive lid over it. There’s a stand by device in case of a power failure.

The vault is located in the center of the building, so there are either three or four solid masonry walls on every side, plus five floors and a roof of reinforced concrete above it.

Whenever the Constitution is on exhibit, it is protected by an armed military guard. No flash bulb photographs are allowed.

Bottom line, we the people of the United States have built a shrine to the Constitution. It’s an historical relic. You take the kids there to see it. To whisper and point with awe and reverence.

Just like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s one of the sites to see. A look at history. A peek at the past.

I think it’s wonderful that our federal government is taking such good care of the original constitution. It feeds our need to connect emotionally with the Founders of our nation, and to appreciate what a marvelous thing was done two centuries ago.

But there is a downside.

Treating the charter of our nation with untouchable reverence feeds the notion that it is somehow a divinely inspired pronouncement. Like the ten commandments to be carried around in the Ark of the Covenant, but not otherwise given much attention.

Folks figure that if it’s God’s law, God will enforce it.

And if the Constitution is a one time gift from on high, then it is permanent, complete, perfect and unchangeable. There are no more Washingtons, Madisons, Hamiltons or Franklins and never will be.

But of course everybody knows there are no more twenty dollar jury trials in Federal Court, as required by the seventh amendment, and the two year limit on appropriations for the military set out in Article 1,Section 8 has been swept under the rug.

Because everybody knows that times change. This is the twenty first century. It’s a different world, and it runs on a different set of rules.

The Constitution is protected and revered because it is old. But sooner or later old becomes ancient and ancient becomes archaic. And archaic means it doesn’t really matter anymore.

So the more we love it and honor it, the less we want to think about it or obey it.

Sort of like taking grandma to the home.

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