by Dennis Dalman
Hardly a day goes by that the national news does not simmer with issues relating to the U.S. Constitution, and yet polls show the average American knows next to nothing about that landmark document.
That is why Chuck Kern of St. Joseph decided to host a three-evening seminar dedicated to learning about the Constitution. Kern, who is commander of the American Legion Club in St. Joseph, is the first to admit he himself needs to learn more about the Constitution since he hasn’t read it closely or studied it since a brief course in high school.
The three-part “U.S. Constitution” seminar will take place starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8 at the American Legion in St. Joseph. The other two sessions are also set for Tuesday evenings, also at 7 p.m. both times – Nov. 12 and Dec. 10. The courses are free, and participants will not take any tests. Everyone of any age is welcome to attend, Kern noted.
At each session, participants will view a one-hour video about the history and meaning of the Constitution. After the video, people may join an informal discussion session on what they have seen. Kern said the sessions will be conducted in the spirit of a friendly, nonpartisan attitude.
“As a citizen and a veteran, it interests me as to how the Constitution has evolved,” he said. “There are many various interpretations of it. Some think it’s a living, changing document, but others think it means, word for word, what it says and should not be subject to so many interpretations.”
Kern was referring mainly to various courts throughout the nation, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, whose nine justices wrangle constantly with how laws do or do not meet the standards of legal constitutionality. The high court has made a series of monumental decisions in 200-plus years of American history, with the U.S. Constitution a basis for the decisions. Such decisions have far-reaching effects on all Americans. Such recent decisions involved a key part of the Affordable Health Care Act being declared constitutionally acceptable and the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The U.S. Constitution is the rock-bottom basis for the supreme law of the United States of America. It was created at a convention in Philadelphia by the Founding Fathers in 1787 and ratified by the states (11 states at the time) in 1788. The document spells out the separation of powers for the nation (legislative, judicial, executive). The first 10 amendments to the document are known as the Bill of Rights. Since the adoption of the Constitution, it has been amended 27 times.
The sessions at the Legion, Kern noted, are meant to be a very basic introduction to the great document and serve as a springboard for discussion and further study.
“We encourage everyone who has an interest to attend,” Kern said. “They can have a pop or a drink and a light snack. The videos will be shown on a big-screen TV in our meeting room.”
Kern said he is often taken aback at how the U.S. Constitution is not taught adequately in schools.
“I would like to see it mandatory in all schools so students would have a quarter or even a semester dedicated to it,” he said.
Kern has been commander of the American Legion in St. Joseph since July 1. He is retired from his job as a nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Cloud. He also retired from his position as a major in the Minnesota National Guard.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.