Constitutional Expert: U.S. Senator Robert Byrd
Scholastic News Online talks to the senator who wrote the law establishing September 17 as Constitution Day
Senator Robert Byrd displays a copy of the U.S. Constitution on Friday, June 24, 2005. (Photo: Scott McCloskey/The Wheeling Intelligencer/AP Wide World)
I recently interviewed U.S. Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia. It was a very exciting experience. We talked about a new law that establishes Constitution Day on September 17 every year. The law was written by Senator Byrd and was passed by Congress in 2004. This year is the first year that schools and federal agencies will set aside a day to celebrate the Constitution.
"There's nothing more important than the Constitution," Senator Byrd told me. "We have all kinds of holidays. We have George Washington's birthday, Lincoln's birthday, the Fourth of July, Labor Day; we have Flag Day. But none of these—not one—is as important as the Constitution of the United States."
Some of you may not know what Constitution Day is all about. Constitution Day is an American federal holiday that recognizes the ratification of the United States Constitution. It is observed on September 17, the day in 1787 when the Founding Fathers attending the Constitutional Convention signed the document into law. When Constitution Day falls on a weekend or on another holiday, it is to be observed on the preceding or following week. This year, it falls on a Saturday, so schools will observe it on Friday, September 16.
"This will help our young people understand the Constitution," said the Senator. "If they learn that, they will learn more about the history of this country."
|Scholastic News Kid Reporter Alonzo Webb of Maryland interviewed U.S. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia about Constitution Day. (Photo: Photo by Suzanne McCabe)|
Byrd said he wrote the bill to honor the Constitution as America's most basic founding document.
"There are several founding documents, like the Declaration of Independence, for example; but the Constitution of the United States is the single most important founding document that we have," Senator Byrd said. "It's the oldest constitution in the world and it is a constitution that sets forth the structure of government and the rights of the American people."
The U.S. Constitution is short and easy to read, he said. He encouraged everyone to memorize part of it, especially the preamble, which begins "We the People ... "
"I hope that kids understand that in this country, everything that we do in everyday life is touched upon by the Constitution of the United States," Byrd said. "It protects our liberties and it protects our freedom of speech. It protects our religion. It protects the freedom of speech so the newspapers can tell us the news every day."
Because of the Constitution, we don't live under the rule of a king or queen. The Constitution establishes the three branches of government. It sets up the legislative branch, which is the branch Senator Byrd serves in, and it sets up the the executive branch, which is the President. It also sets up the judicial branch, which interprets the Constitution and the laws.
"All of these things are set forth in that basic document, the Constitution of the United States," Byrd said. "That's why it's so important for young people like you to study the Constitution. It protects your rights and it affects every aspect of your life: while you're young, you’re middle aged, or old, whatever profession you undertake. The Constitution protects you in doing in whatever you have to do. If it weren't for that Constitution, we wouldn’t have those rights."
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Alonzo Webb is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.