4th of July – Be a Green Citizen

This 4th of July let’s celebrate being Americans and promote green citizenship by exercising our First Amendment freedoms and rights.

I Still Like to Call it Independence Day Cartoon - Source: Interfaith Power & LightLast year for 4th of July, I reacquainted myself with the Declaration of Independence so this year I decided to focus on the Constitution of the United States and specifically the First Amendment.

In this post, we’ll explore events that led up to the Bill of Rights and discuss how we can use our First Amendment rights to advocate for a habitable planet.

Articles of Confederation

The U.S. Constitution enshrined at the National Archives that begins, “We the people…” was not the first constitution of the United States.

On June 12, 1776, with the Revolutionary War in its second year, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft a constitution for the newly formed confederation of 13 independent states. Concurrently, other committees were drafting the Declaration of Independence and a Model Treaty (a template for relations with foreign countries).

Articles of Confederation - Image: U.S. Library of CongressAfter more than a year of debate, on November 15, 1777, Congress approved the first constitution entitled the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States and submitted it to the states for ratification.

The Articles of Confederation included a name for the confederation “The United States of America,” ensured state sovereignty was protected and defined the responsibilities of Congress, which was single body back then (there was no president of the United States).

Although ratification of the Articles of Confederation dragged on for several years and it did not become officially effective until February 2, 1781, the document served as the de facto system of government for the fledgling United States of America through most of the Revolutionary War and the early years of the freedom.

Constitution of the United States

By 1786, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation were apparent. The states had retained most of the power and the central government did not have the authority to impose taxes, set commercial policy, or mediate issues between the states; inflation was out of control, businesses were struggling, and farmers were going into debt or losing their farms.

On May 25, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention from the 13 states gathered in the Pennsylvania State House to begin the process of drafting a new constitution.

Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia, PA - Photo: NPS

Throughout the sultry summer months, the delegates sweltered in woolen suits and wigs while sitting on hard wooden chairs in a hot stuffy room, and debated the future of the country. They did not have air conditioning, running water, or indoor toilets. There were no white boards, post-it notes, or computers. Imagine keeping records of the sessions and drafting the constitution by scratching an ink covered quill pen across a piece of parchment. Mistakes or revisions required literally scraping the word or phrase off the parchment or crossing it out and writing the correction above it or scribbling it in the margin.

The delegates proposed and debated various plans, forms of government, taxation, representation, commerce, foreign affairs, state sovereignty, slavery, and individual rights. After more than 3 months, on September 17, 1787, the delegates met for the last time and signed the newly crafted Constitution of the United States.

The state ratification process did not go smoothly. The Federalists believed in a strong central government, but the anti-Federalists were concerned the federal government would become too powerful and usurp the rights of the people, and they’d end up back in the situation they had just fought a war against a few years earlier.

The anti-Federalists demanded the Constitution be amended to include the people’s bill of rights. Influential delegates fearful the Constitution would not be ratified by the required nine states agreed. This strategy worked, and the Constitution was ratified on July 2, 1788.

Bill of Rights

American Flag Flying with Statue of LibertyIn 1798, pursuant to the Constitution of the United States, Article V, the First Federal Congress took up the issue of amendments. The House of Representatives approved 17, the Senate narrowed them down to 12, and 10 were actually ratified by the states and added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791.

The first of the list of 12 amendments concerned the ratio of constituents to each congressional representative, and the second concerned congressional pay (it became Twenty-seventh Amendment) were never ratified by the states.

Thus, the third amendment became the First Amendment and leads the Bill of Rights.

First Amendment

The First Amendment guarantees the personal freedoms and rights of individual American citizens.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Be a Green Citizen

In honor of the 4th of July and on behalf or our children and future generations, let’s be green citizens by using our First Amendment freedoms and rights to advocate for a habitable planet. Here are a few ideas to serve as thought starters.

Freedom of Religion

Collectively, people of faith constitute the largest social network on earth. Religious organizations already have a long history of outreach, advocacy, and service, which make them ideally suited for implementing green actions, projects, and programs.

Solar Panels with Congregation Members Holding Banner - Photo: Green FaithReligious leaders are including stewardship of the earth in sermons and teachings as an act of piety.

Congregations are conducting energy audits, installing solar panels, planting organic gardens, using recycled paper, and reducing waste.

Volunteer to participate in a green project or suggest one.

Freedom of Speech

Exercising your right to freedom of speech is easy.

  • Talk with a coworker about the environmental impact of drinking bottled water or chat with your neighbor about composting.
  • Call, write a letter, tweet, post, or send an email to your elected officials letting them know what environmental issues are important to you and what you think they should do about them.
  • Attend a school, community, or government meeting and speak up to support fresh food in school lunches, curbside recycling, or a ban on single-use plastic bags.
  • Shoot some photos or make a video about your green actions and post it online. Digital cameras and smartphones make it easy and fun.
  • Write a letter to the editor or an editorial for an online or paper newspaper to share your water-savings ideas, promote distributed solar for your community, or report how living near a coal-fired power plant affects your family.
Freedom of Assembly

The First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble” contains two keywords, peaceably and assemble.

Freedom of assembly covers a lot of ground including congregations, meetings, sit-ins, conventions, rallies, and protest marches. Find a green project or cause that speaks to you, or come up with your own. Then exercise your right to peaceably assemble to promote, advocate, or protest on behalf of it.

Eleventh Amendment to the Bill of Rights

I propose an eleventh amendment to the Bill of Rights (it would actually be the twenty- eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution).Group of Kids Playing at a Park

“The people have the right to a habitable planet with clean air, clean water, fresh food, and nontoxic places to live, study, work, explore, and play.”

Happy 4th of July!

Related Posts

Resources

A few of the organizations working towards a habitable planet include:

References

Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

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