Many of us have a prized possession we carry with us at all times. For some of us, it is something practical like a cell phone or wallet. For devout Christians, it may be a Bible.
For some Americans, it is a pocket Constitution. Many lawmakers and judges carry this important document at all times—including Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. During Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings a couple weeks ago, one senator callously referred to the judge’s pocket constitution as “that book you carry.”
But our founding document is so much more than just a “book.” The U.S. Constitution represents an experiment never tried before in human history. Not only is our nation a government by the people and for the people, but also it is a nation formed on the basis of principles rather than heredity or conquest.
On this day 231 years ago, 39 delegates from 12 of the 13 original states signed the Constitution. Their goal was to create a new government—a government of laws and not of men.
The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution a few years later to ensure that the federal government would not run roughshod over the people’s inalienable freedoms. The First Amendment guarantees the right of all Americans to speak freely according to their beliefs, even if what they say is at odds with the government’s own views. In fact, the individual’s ability to criticize the government is important in maintaining a government truly by the people, for the people.
Unfortunately, our First Amendment freedoms have been eroding.
This past term at the Supreme Court featured several different cases where state governments attempted to compel citizens to express messages contrary to their deepest beliefs. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the state of Colorado told Jack Phillips that he must design cakes celebrating same-sex weddings (something he disagrees with because of his religious beliefs) or get out of the wedding cake business entirely. And in NIFLA v. Becerra, the state of California forced pro-life pregnancy centers to point the way to abortions.
Thankfully, in both cases, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of free speech. These rulings will hopefully remind Americans about the importance of the First Amendment and counterbalance a troubling trend that has emerged in recent years. For, example, a study in 2016 revealed that 40 percent of young people believe that free speech should be limited if it is offensive. College campuses—the very places where diversity of speech is supposed to thrive—are restricting the speech of their students. Last year, a college had a group of students arrested for handing out pocket constitutions.
How different would our country be if we all not only carried around a pocket constitution but also lived out its principles? Maybe so many would not forget the importance of the freedom of speech. Our most sacred natural rights are given to us by God, but they are protected by the Constitution. Its freedoms are among our most prized possessions.