When’s the last time you read your country’s constitution? Why would you even want to?
Just look at the dictionary definition and you’ll see why we all should want to-this from Miriam-Webster: “constitution, noun – the system of beliefs and laws by which a country, state, or organization is governed.”
It’s the document that provides your rights, your no-nos, and also your government’s duties in serving you. If you end up in court, the U.S. Constitution is one of two basic documents your attorney depends on in representing you. The other is your state constitution. All the laws you may have broken, or may want to use to support you in court, derive from these two primary authorities, with the federal Constitution currently standing as the ultimate rule-which is why your court case’s last stop for appeal is the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s the same for every other civilized country on the globe. They all legally operate through a national constitution.
The more you know about your constitution, and the more you refer to it, the better you can protect your liberties, work with or oppose your government’s actions, and operate your business and care for your home.
Why should you care about other nations’ constitutions? Why would you even want to read them?
We’ve found ourselves in the age of globalization. What affects one country under its constitution can end up affecting you, even though you’re in another country. Here’s an example:
Egypt recently experienced a military coup. Its army took control of the country from a democratically elected president and parliament. This was the result of growing turmoil in the streets, based on protestors’ objections to what they considered both an illegitimate forming of the constitution and the new president’s abuse of it. And currently massive protests are taking place because of the military’s takeover, which the objectors consider unconstitutional.
Egypt’s fiery quagmire is highly political, yes, but it’s all based on individual rights and government duties granted by the citizenry through its constitution.
And that massive struggle affects Egypt’s economy, the economy of the Middle East, and even the U.S. government’s budget and foreign policy. Right now, some in Congress and journalists are questioning if America should be providing $1.23 billion to an Egyptian military that has overthrown its democratically elected government.
That’s just one example. Every foreign relationship the U.S. has is based on our and the other nation’s constitutions.
Therefore, one might say that the giant Internet manipulator Google has done something good for the world. Today it announced the launch of Constitute, a website which brings to your monitor 160 of the world’s constitutions.
As the tech web journal Mashable describes it:
The site, developed by the Comparative Constitutions Project, with seed funding by Google Ideas, has digitized the constitutions of 160 countries, making them fully searchable. A user can browse the constitutions using nearly 350 curated tagged topics like religion, political parties, or civil and political rights; or simply search by year or country.
“Our aim is to arm drafters with a better tool for constitution design and writing,” wrote Sara Sinclair Brody, Google Ideas Product Manager, on the company’s blog post announcing the release of the website. “We also hope citizens will use Constitute to learn more about their own constitutions, and those of countries around the world…”
…The Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP) is directed by Zachary Elkins from the University of Texas, Tom Ginsburg, from the University of Chicago, and James Melton, from University College London. The Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois cooperated with the project, which also supported by the National Science Foundation.
Sure, the new website will be a boon for the world’s lawyers, governments and businesses. But it can also benefit the average citizen concerned about individual rights, and students studying national and international affairs.
It can also help you in paying attention to a government that might be manipulating the constitution for educational or political purposes, or both.
In Venezuela, the federal government is in the process of distributing five million newly printed copies of its constitution to every school child. President Nicol√°s Maduro calls it “a beautiful gift to our nation’s children.” The cover shows the late powerful president Hugo Chavez surrounded by benevolent children. Foreign Policy magazine, describing the printed document, explains:
The book’s cartoonish illustrations — a bit incongruous beside the legalese of the constitutional text — also show a colorful, sword-swinging incarnation of Venezuelan independence hero Sim√≥n Bol√≠var. Ch√°vez and his revolutionary compadre act out various constitutional provisions with the children while also fending off sinister (and apparently American) imperialist agents garbed in black trench coats.
So where does civic education end and political indoctrination begin?
The bottom line is this: There is a bottom line. And it’s your national constitution. Because the reality is that YOU are the government. Within the boundaries of your nation, it’s your guide and protector to living a free life, or close to it, depending on what that document says. The more you know about it, the better. And if you’re into global relationships, the more you know about their constitutions, the better your chances for exercising freedom with them.