Make us your home page

Ruth: Constitution on the cheap

Willard Cleon Skousen, who died in 2006, argued that the nation’s founders took their inspiration from the Bible. His group publishes a pocket Constitution for Florida.

Willard Cleon Skousen, who died in 2006, argued that the nation’s founders took their inspiration from the Bible. His group publishes a pocket Constitution for Florida.

This is what happens when you try to teach the United States Constitution on the cheap. You get a cut-rate version of history that practically has a halo-bedecked George Washington crossing the Delaware River on a dinosaur.

Let us pause here for a forehead slap.

This is the pickle the Florida Bar and state Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis got themselves into when a group funded by the Bar and headed by Lewis paid $24,000 to purchase pocket Constitutions from a conservative group that would lead you to think the Founding Fathers were handling snakes when they wrote the document.

Over the past five years, some 80,000 constitutional pamphlets printed by the National Center for Constitutional Studies have been purchased through the Bar's Justice Teaching program to be distributed to public school students.

Unfortunately, the students are taught the Constitution was inspired by the Bible, with various quotes from the likes of Washington and John Adams to support the argument. I cannot tell a lie. This is ridiculous.

The principle of the separation of church and state has been a cornerstone of America's governance since the founders gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution. And while Washington and most of the rest of the chaps who crafted the document were indeed men of faith, nowhere in the Constitution can any reference to "God" be found except for the final signatory section, which reads the document was completed on "the Seventeenth Day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven."

That's it. Not exactly Moses coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments.

The absence of any religious reference in the Constitution has not prevented various groups such as the National Center for Constitutional Studies (and Speaking in Tongues Optional) insisting the Constitution is a faith-based document inspired by the "finger of Providence" under attack by the forces of secularism.

The patron saint of this group is Willard Cleon Skousen, whose name may not mean anything to you unless you keep your radio tuned to Glenn Beck.

Beck has resurrected (bad word choice, perhaps) Skousen's profile by hyping his conspiracy theories. Skousen, who died in 2006, was an enthusiastic supporter of the John Birch Society and promoted New World Order conspiracy theories, especially those focusing on the commie subversives of the Council on Foreign Relations.

How far out was Skousen? The ultraconservative American Security Council gave him the boot because they thought he was giving the right wing a bad name.

Yet the Florida Bar and Lewis aligned themselves with the National Center for Constitutional Studies to teach public school children about the Constitution. Wouldn't this be a bit like looking to the writings of Karl Marx to promote the New York Stock Exchange?

One would think out of all these lawyers, one might have bothered to take a look at the National Center for Constitutional Studies and concluded: "Did we have an anvil dropped on our heads? What were we thinking?"

Lewis had a simple explanation to the Tampa Bay Times' Peter Jamison. "We do not have an agenda or a partisan view," the justice said. "This is the cheapest Constitution we could find. That's the answer to it."

That's the best excuse Lewis has to justify foisting the misleading religious views of an extremist group on unsuspecting schoolchildren?

Merely because some of the founders may have been men of devout faith doesn't mean the Constitution they drafted was intended to be a blueprint for a religious civil society.

The intentions were honorable. But buying the "cheapest Constitution we could find" without reading it was a mistake. Civic literacy can't be bought like a blue-light special that happens to have a few flaws.

Ruth: Constitution on the cheap 12/09/13 [Last modified: Monday, December 9, 2013 5:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours