September 17 is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and it is customary that the President of the United States proclaims the week of September 17 as Constitution Week.
The origins of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day are interesting because they illustrate how individuals or a small group of people can come up with and cause to be implemented ideas that contribute to strengthening the Rule of Law. This is worth noting because community commitment is an essential component of the Rule of Law.
The origins of Citizenship Day date back to 1939, when William Randolph Hearst suggested creation of a holiday to celebrate American citizenship. As a result of his influence, in 1940 Congress designated the third Sunday in May as “I Am an American Day.” In 1952, a Louisville, Ohio, resident named Olga T. Weber petitioned the leaders of her municipality to change the day of the holiday to correspond with the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. They agreed. Weber then made the same request at the state level, and that too was approved. In 1953 Weber made a similar request to the United States Congress, and both the Senate and the House of Representatives approved the change. Consequently, President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed the day “Citizenship Day” and moved it to September 17.
In 1997, Louise Leigh, a retired medical technologist from El Monte, California, founded a nonprofit organization called Constitution Day, Inc. with the goal of having a federally recognized Constitution Day. She had been inspired to do so after taking a course in Constitutional history sponsored by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. As a result of Leigh’s efforts, and with critical support from Senator Robert Byrd, Constitution Day became an official holiday in 2004, alongside Citizenship Day. (Senator Byrd added the “Constitution Day” amendment to an omnibus spending bill.)
You need not make any commitment of time and energy as significant as the efforts by Olga T. Weber and Louise Leigh in order to make a difference in terms of helping spread the word about Constitution Week. I have two suggestions for things you can do that would be “an easy lift.”
First, you can remind people that September 17 is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day and that the week following is Constitution Week. If they look at you and ask something along the lines of “So what?” you can share with them a few thoughts that were expressed in last year’s Presidential proclamation:
America is founded on the most powerful idea in history—that we are all created equal. That idea sparked our revolution, ignited a wave of change of across the world, and beats in the hearts of Americans today. It is central to our Constitution, and citizenship embodies a true faith and allegiance to give it full meaning in our everyday lives. . . .
When our Founding Fathers came together nearly 250 years ago, they set in motion an experiment that changed the world. They disagreed and debated but ultimately came together to forge a new system of self-government—a system balanced between a strong Federal Government and the States, held together by co-equal branches and a separation of powers. America would not be a land of kings or dictators; it would be a Nation of laws . . . .
As we have seen throughout our history, though, nothing about our democracy is guaranteed. America is an idea—one that requires constant stewardship.
A Proclamation on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and Constitution Week, 2022 (Sep. 16, 2022).
Second, you can tell them about the annual “Civics Challenge” created by the Federal Judges Association (FJA). The FJA offers this annual challenge to high school students across the country as part of an effort to increase civic engagement, knowledge of United States history and government, and appreciation for our country’s citizenship process.
High school students, grades 9 through 12, can participate in this challenge if they have a teacher who is willing to participate. The students take the Civics Test that is given to individuals seeking United States citizenship. Any high school teacher can agree to administer and grade the Civics Test. The Civics Test must given, graded, and the results submitted by the participating high school teacher to the FJA by no later than December 31, 2023.
A student who achieves a perfect score on the Civics Test, as determined by the participating high school teacher, will receive an “Excellent Citizen” certificate, which will be mailed to the participating high school teacher. Such students will also have a potential opportunity to be invited to attend a federal court naturalization ceremony in their home judicial district presided over by a federal judge.
If you know a high school teacher, or know someone who knows a high school teacher, please mention this to that individual and let them know that they can contact the FJA coordinator, Susan DeCourcey, at the following email address: [email protected].
In case you are intrigued, the following is a sample of typical questions that appear on the Civics Test:
- What does the Constitution do?
- The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
- What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
- What is the “rule of law”?
- If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
- What does the judicial branch do?
- Under the Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?
- What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?
- The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.
- Name one American Indian tribe in the United States.
- Name one U.S. territory.
Perhaps we should set up a testing booth at one of the American Bar Association Business Law Section meetings and see how we as a Section do?
World Justice Project, “What is the Rule of Law?,” https://worldjusticeproject.org/about-us/overview/what-rule-law (“The Rule of Law is ‘a durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment’ based on ‘four universal principles’: ‘just law’; ‘open government’; ‘accessible and impartial justice’; and ‘the government as well as private actors are accountable under the law.’”) (emphasis added) (last visited 9/7/23). ↑