Constitution Day compares international constitutions

FMU held its annual Constitution Day program Sept. 24 in the Thompson Auditorium in the Lee Nursing Building. The program was a lecture by William Daniel, assistant professor of political science, titled “The U.S. Constitution in Comparative Context: How Do We Stack Up?”

With federal law mandating that that all public institutions that receive federal funding must provide programming for Constitution Day, Daniel said the purpose of Constitution Day is to promote civic education and for students to learn the rules of the government they are living under.

Daniel said this program was a lecture, but that previous years have included panel debates, guest speakers and a trivia game show.

Daniel encouraged students to think of the U.S. Constitution in a worldwide context. He did so by comparing the judicial review systems, potential for amendments and lengths of various constitutions throughout the world to the U.S. Constitution.

Daniel noted that the U.S. Constitution is relatively short compared to other countries’ constitutions, with only 7,762 words. Comparatively, Iceland has the world’s shortest constitution, with only 4,809 words. He said other countries, such as India with its 146,385 word constitution, prefer to lay out their rules more explicitly and account for every possible scenario.

“The U.S. takes a distinctive approach,” Daniel said. “We try to say a lot by saying not much at all.”

Daniel also noted that the U.S. only lays out about half of all possible civil rights and liberties in the Constitution. However, he said this does not mean that the U.S. has fewer rights, but rather that it protects them in other ways, such as Supreme Court rulings.

Daniel then mentioned that the U.S. Constitution is one of only three constitutions that provides a strong judicial review system, stemming from its diffuse system, meaning that the Supreme Court can pick cases from any level of government.

After the lecture, Daniel took questions from the audience, discussing how to interpret the Founding Fathers’ view of the Constitution and the amount of case law that has been written discussing the text of the Constitution.

David White, chair of the department of political science and geography, handed out booklets containing the U.S. Constitution and trivia about it afterward.

Daniel said he was partially inspired to choose his topic after Dillon Tatum, assistant professor of political science, gave a lecture about international themes and philosophies that inspired the U.S. Constitution during FMU’s previous Constitution Day program.

“Most of my research and teaching is in comparative politics, so I was interested in how we could look at our U.S. Constitution not as this document that existed in a vacuum and wasn’t related to anything else in the world, but actually could be in some ways compared,” Daniel said.

FMU student Hunter Britt said she attended the event because she is a political science major and had Daniel as a professor before, who she found to be knowledgeable on the subject.

“It was really interesting to learn about the U.S. Constitution from an outsider’s perspective, which he focused on a lot,” Britt said.

Daniel ended the event by giving a reminder of the importance of the U.S. Constitution.

“Go forth knowing the rights you have that others don’t have,” Daniel said.