Tunes from the hit musical “Hamilton” rang through the quad on Friday afternoon, Sept. 16, as classes let out at 3 p.m. People filed in and around the entrance of Buntrock Commons as students, professors and other faculty and staff members gathered around 154 sheets of paper arranged in a large circle on the sidewalk.
Last Friday marked Constitution Day, a federal observance commemorating the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and to celebrate the entire document was printed out on the 154 sheets of paper. The event, formulated and organized by Associate Dean of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics Rebecca Judge, was a full recitation of the U.S. Constitution. From the preamble, read in a pre-recorded video by President David Anderson ’74, through each article and amendment, St. Olaf gave the 229 year-old document its hour in the sunlight.
The U.S. House of Representatives supposedly completed the ratification of the Constitution in a mere 40 minutes. Needless to say, it took St. Olaf longer, but the participants weren’t too far off. Some came, read and then left. Others stayed the entire time, reading multiple sections of the document. Some stopped by to listen but not to read. Others merely gave confused side glances and moved on.
Professor of Political Science Douglas Casson explained before the reading why St. Olaf hosts this event, why it’s important to our campus and what the event is meant to impart on the student body.
Constitution Day is celebrated at colleges and universities all over the United States due to a federal regulation to an appropriations bill in 2004 that requires every academic institution that receives federal funding to celebrate Constitution Day.
“Most legal scholars think this provision is unconstitutional,” Casson said.
He explained that the provision could be understood as coerced speech, which would generally be a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. However, he also said that the college is eager to commemorate the occasion and is “happy to take this opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate the Constitution, especially in our current context of political ignorance.”
Some people understood exactly what they were reading, while others just walked past and decided to join. As people read through key amendments, they remarked, clapped, laughed or included their own comments as preface to the passage they had chosen.
Casson urges the St. Olaf’s Community to respect the Constitution’s significance.
“The freedom and equality that animate our institutions require vigilance,” he said. “They don’t simply happen. The aspirations of the Constitution need to be remembered and reaffirmed by every new generation.”