Every summer, I have the pleasure of attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual conference. I am AU’s State Legislative Counsel and this conference, the biggest gathering of state legislators and staff in the country, gives us with the opportunity to educate state legislators and their staff, about AU, our mission, and how we can work with them to fight for religious freedom.
At our booth at the conference, alongside our AU brochures, pens and bumper stickers, we always have pocket copies of the United States Constitution. It’s a conversation-starter: We get to talk about how the Constitution protects religious liberty with everyone who stops by.
This year, the conference was a week-and-a-half after Khizr Khan made his powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention. Arguing in favor of religious freedom, Khan directly addressed Donald Trump as he pulled out his own pocket Constitution and said: “Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”
So this year, it seemed as if everyone at the conference wanted a copy of their own to put in their pocket – and possibly wave around if the opportunity arose. State legislators and staff—on both sides of the aisle—grabbed a copy for themselves. As a state representative from Virginia picked one up, he proudly explained that Khizr Khan was his constituent. After stopping by our booth on the first day of the conference, one person came back on the second day to ask for another copy after his young daughter was upset that he didn’t bring one home for her, too. She wanted to have it with her for her first day back to school the following week. Even attendees from other countries were eager to take a copy back with them. We couldn’t replenish the stack of constitutions on our table fast enough and ran out before the conference ended
As someone whose work revolves around the religious freedom principles established in the Constitution, and has great respect and pride for this document, it was wonderful to see other people get so excited to have a copy of their own.
My hope is that this excitement isn’t short-lived – that the constitutions from the conference do not simply remain in people’s pockets and purses. I hope they get as passionate as Khizr Khan did and will whip out their constitutions to point to provisions and defend the rights of others. Maybe they, like us at AU, will proudly point to the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to defend the right of fallen soldiers, whether Humanist, Christian, Wiccan, or Sikh, to have the symbol of their beliefs on their headstone. Or maybe they will meet with their lawmakers and point to the Establishment Clause when they suggest placing the Ten Commandants in front of the state capitol, or they propose a bill that would allow the use of religion as an excuse to discriminate against others.
And my hope is that at next year’s conference, the enthusiasm for the founding document of this country has not waned. We’ve already placed the order for more pocket constitutions.
Happy Constitution Day!