John Eidsmoe delivered his message about constitutional rights with the ease of a late-night talk show host and the deliberateness of a professor during Thursday’s “Bells Across America” ceremony as part of Constitution Week festivities.
In front of an overflow crowd of military personnel and students at the Alabama Veterans Museum, Eidsmoe said he believed Constitution Day should be considered as important as the Fourth of July holiday commemorating America’s independence.
“Constitution Day should have as equal a place on our calendar as Independence Day,” said Eidsmoe, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and constitutional attorney who lightened his remarks by cracking jokes about his “Viking ancestors,” lawyers and doctors.
“The Declaration of Independence established the nation, and the Constitution established the government,” he said.
Constitution Day, which is celebrated on the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, became a sanctioned federal holiday nine years ago. Schools receiving federal funds are required to provide constitutional lessons on Constitution Day.
Eidsmoe, who has degrees in theology, law and political science, said the Founding Fathers were guided by two principles when crafting the cornerstone of America’s government.
“They had a high view of God and his law, with the idea that there is a higher law than human law,” said Eidsmoe. “And they had a low view of man and his nature. They didn’t believe human nature is perfectible or that man is basically good.”
He quoted James Madison, the man known as the “Father of the Constitution,” as saying, “…If men were angels, government wouldn’t be necessary.”
Eidsmoe said the Constitution’s formula is comprised of delegation and separation of powers, checks and balances, reserving individual rights and responsibility through religion, and quoted George Washington as saying that “religion and morality are indispensable supports” of the government.
Eidsmoe said the present challenge for American citizens is “keeping the republic given to us 226 years ago.”
“Learn the Constitution, study the Constitution and make it so that you understand what limits are placed on the government,” Eidsmoe said.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Chris Anzalone delivered the keynote address. He focused on the vitality of the Constitution and reasons for deploying the U.S. military overseas.
“If we don’t understand in every town of America why we’re fighting, then we’re going to implode from within,” said Anzalone, who referenced previous empires that had failed through the lack of a common purpose. “And what is reported by the media is often not true or accurate (in relation to) what is really happening with our military.”
Anzalone said use of American military force needs to be justified by constitutional-based reasons, such as common defense, and not necessarily to carry out a political agenda. He said even retaliatory responses — World War II for the Pearl Harbor attack or the War on Terrorism for the Sept. 11 attacks — are not the only reasons the U.S. should go to war.
“Is that really why we fight, to have revenge? No, it goes much deeper than just because we were attacked. You have to fight for something more than that. The real basis of why America fights is found in our Constitution.”
The John Wade Keyes chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored the event, which featured presentation of the colors by Boy Scout Troop 240 of First United Methodist Church and the playing of “Taps” by retired Athens High School band instructor Dan Havely.