Two local lawmakers discussed the United States Constitution to kick off three days of Constitution Day activities at Flint Hills Technical College Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, a Republican representing the 17th District, and Representative Mark Schreiber, a Republican representing District 60, shared the story behind the country’s founding document and what it means to them.
Constitution Day is celebrated on September 17 each year across the United States, on the day that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia in 1787 – 11 years after the end of the war independence. Schreiber explained the process behind the creation of the Constitution and its eventual passage.
âThe original 13 states came together right after the War of Independence ended and began to put together what they thought were [the government]Schreiber said. “At first it wasn’t called the Constitution; it was called the Articles of Confederation. They brought these ideas together, but it was really to create strong states and a weak federal government. . “
Under the Articles of Confederation, he said, the federal government could ask the states for money, but the states were under no obligation to provide it.
âThe federal government couldn’t really function well and it became very obvious,â Schreiber said.
Thus, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was convened in Philadelphia, finding the influence of the autonomous governments of the Roman Empire and ancient Greece. Another central principle was the “promotion of public welfare to ensure the protection of the public good” as well as personal freedom.
âIt’s a little difficult when we talk about freedom, because some people might say, ‘Well I just wanna do what I wanna do and others can do whatever they wanna do,'” said Schreiber. “But really, the Constitution was designed to bring these principles together in America.”
The Constitution is relatively short at only 4,400 words, with the first three articles establishing the entire system of government. Schreiber said the three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial – have been developed to ensure that government is working effectively for the people. The Constitution also determined the number of senators each state would have, although the number of representatives was not officially determined until 1929, when the House of Representatives was capped at 435 seats across the country and divided by population.
While 11,000 amendments were proposed to the Constitution, only 27 were adopted. Schreiber said the document’s writers intentionally made it difficult to make changes.
Longbine took the opportunity to discuss the First Amendment in the age of social media and unrest.
âThe First Amendment guarantees these five rights: freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to assemble, the right to petition the government and freedom of expression,â Longbine said.
He explained that the right to freedom of speech or expression guarantees the rights of the press, as well as of every person, the right to express themselves freely even if what they say is controversial. The Supreme Court weighed in on the limits of the type of speech that was and was not protected in 1919.
“In short, the court declared that words which defend ideas or arguments are protected, but words which aim to incite violence or present a clear and present danger are unconstitutional,” Longbine said, adding that the Supreme Court justices of 1919 and the 39 signatories of the Constitution could not have imagined social media.
And social media has become a hot topic when it comes to freedom of expression and the dissemination of information. Platforms like Facebook, Longbine said, have made it easy to share information, although the information is not entirely accurate.
“How can we take back our country and make freedom of expression responsible and truthful, as our founding fathers had planned? ” he said. âWe all need to understand that just because someone says so doesn’t mean it’s the truth. If that doesn’t sound quite right, it probably isn’t. Do we have a moral obligation to seek the truth before repeating what we have been told or sharing it on social media? “
Longbine said politicians and the media should be held accountable for providing accurate information, while the public has the task of finding reliable sources for their information. Otherwise, we risk eroding and further compromising the âfoundation of our democracyâ.
Denise Gilligan, director of information resources and evaluation at the FHTC, which hosted the event, said the tech college recognizes Constitution Day every year, but wants to change things up a bit for 2021.
âThis is the first year that we have a speaker series and it’s just on a lark,â she said. âI was just like, ‘I’m going to email our state officials and see if they’d like to talk.’ I sent it to our zone reps and mainly those who log into Lyon County and they all responded.
Gilligan said the FHTC was grateful to each lawmaker for donating their time for the events.
District 76 Representative Eric Smith will speak from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm today, September 17, on âConstitutional Rights and Law Enforcementâ at the FHTC Main Campus, 3301 West 18th Ave., R-Tech / M117.
Smith is the Coffey County Deputy Sheriff and brought this matter to law enforcement.