It's the Law: Government Agencies, Schools and Universities Mark Constitution Day

Across the country on Friday, institutions of education -- from the largest universities to the tiniest one-room schoolhouses -- are celebrating Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, offering educational programs about the Constitution of the United States on the 223rd anniversary of its signing.

From Columbia University in New York to the University of Arizona; from Montclair State University in New Jersey to the University of California-Berkeley; in public schools from Los Angeles to Dearborn, Mich., to Portland, Me., schools and universities that receive federal funds are educating students and faculty about the document, signed in 1887, that provides the framework for the United States of America.

They have to. It's the law.

In 2004, at the urging of the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Congress passed a law designating Sept. 17 as "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day."

The day has its origins in 1940, when Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to decree the third Sunday of May as "I Am An American Day," recognizing those who had attained American citizenship. That resolution was repealed in 1952, when Congress passed a law moving the date to Sept. 17 and renaming it "Citizenship Day."

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Fifty-two years later, Byrd's law added two requirements:

-- The head of every federal agency must provide each employee with "educational and training materials" concerning the Constitution;

-- "Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program" on the Constitution on Sept. 17 each year.

So . . . how are we doing? By all appearances, the law is being obeyed.

At Columbia University -- attended by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and John Jay -- students can pick up a free pocket copy of the Constitution.

They also can visit the university's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which includes several documents related to constitutional reform, including Jay's original draft of essay No. 5 of the Federalist Papers and letters he wrote to Hamilton and George Washington.

Several events are planned at the University of California-Berkeley, where students have been invited to attend a free seminar on "The Free Speech Movement and the Constitution."

Fairfield University in Connecticut will show a series of videos pertaining to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; deans and professors at the University of Arizona will review key U.S. Supreme Court cases; students at Morehead State University in Kentucky will participate in SeptemberFest next week to "celebrate democracy" and America; and Harvard University will provide free copies of the Constitution at two libraries on Friday.

Some celebrations of the Constitution have already occurred, including those at Montclair State University, where students began celebrating the event on Tuesday with the stitching of the National 9/11 Flag, as well as expert panel discussions aimed to inform students about the relevance of the Constitution today.

Students also saw a procession of bagpipes, representatives from local fire departments, university police and student veterans take part in the ceremony.

Carolyn Jones, a campus coordinator for the American Democracy Project, which seeks to further engage students politically, attended the event and said feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

"The goal was to help [students] really capture the Constitution as part of their lives today," Jones told "It was relevant for our students. It was not in a lecture format but in a presentation format. The feedback that I've gotten has been overwhelming. People learned a lot from the panels, but they also were able to recapture the Constitution."

The president and student body president of Texas A&M University jointly signed a proclamation Thursday in support of Constitution Week in cooperation with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The school's Constitution Day activities were to kick off Friday afternoon with the playing of patriotic music on the university's carillon, and exhibits focusing on the Constitution will be located all week at three campus libraries.

The University of Phoenix created a Constitution Day website that includes a letter from the school's president on the importance of Constitution Day, links to information on the Founding Fathers and a historical overview of the Constitutional Convention. The website also features a link for students to register to vote.

In Washington, the various departments of the federal government also appear to be in compliance with the law.

All Justice Department employees have been invited to attend a speech -- "If Ours Is a Living Constitution, Whose Job Is It to Keep It Alive?" -- given by constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, who also serves as the DOJ's senior counselor for access to justice. Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's civil rights division, was scheduled to deliver the Constitution Day keynote address at Oberlin College in Ohio on Thursday night.

At the Department of Labor, as she did last year, Secretary Hilda Solis will send an email to all department employees that includes links to constitutional facts and information, to "remind employees" about the anniversary, a department spokesman told Other social media elements may be included as well.

Treasury Department workers will receive an email reminding them of the anniversary and to provide them additional resources, spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom said.

In 2006, the the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties developed a 25-minute tutorial to remind all DHS employees of the historical context in which the Constitution was written, the basic framework of the Constitution, a description of the Bill of Rights, and quotes from significant American leaders on the importance of the Constitution. The Department makes this tutorial readily available to all employees on Constitution Day.

In addition, DHS leadership is participating in naturalization ceremonies across the country. Secretary Janet Napolitano was in Fenway Park in Boston on Wednesday to naturalize 5,000 new Americans, and additional ceremonies will continue through next week.

The U.S. Postal Service plans to display an American flag at all 34,000 facilities nationwide, as it does every day. "We have no additional plans to recognize or celebrate tomorrow's commemorative date," spokeswoman Joanne Veto said in an email to on Thursday. She did not respond to further inquiries as to whether educational materials will be disseminated to employees.

The Education Department, in a press release, said its website contains a page "that provides information on additional resources that may be helpful to the educational institutions to assist them with Constitution Day activities, and to increase knowledge about the Constitution: Educational institutions are not required to report on their Constitution Day activities to the Department."

Other federal entities did not reply to inquiries as to what educational and training materials they plan to give to their employees. Calls to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which provides material to educate and train federal employees on the Constitution and other matters, were not returned.

President Obama recognized the day as he did last year, with a presidential proclamation released on Thursday that declares Sept. 17 as Constitution and Citizenship Day and Sept. 17 through Sept. 23 as Constitution Week.

"I encourage federal, state, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to conduct ceremonies and programs that recognize our Constitution and reaffirm our rights and obligations as citizens of this great Nation," the proclamation read.'s Joshua Rhett Miller and Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.