Friday, September 16, 2016

Constitution Week Essay Contest Winners!

Photo images of winners keyed in front of image of American flag and U.S. Constitution

We conclude our Constitution Week celebration with congratulations to Rio Salado paralegal student William Hall from Mesa, Arizona-- the grand prize winner of our Constitution Week Essay Contest and recipient of the $200 scholarship prize. We also want to congratulate Rio Salado student Aubrey Taylor from Chandler, Arizona for his entry and second-place, $100 scholarship prize. Taylor is pursuing an Associate in Arts in General Studies.

The contest called on students to answer this question: "What is the most important part of the American Constitution of 1787 and how does that effect how you live and work in the United States?”

We are pleased to share their replies below for your reading pleasure.

A thank you to all of the Essay Contest participants, we appreciate your thoughtful responses.

Photo of Hall

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution Protected My Freedom of Religion By William D. Hall
As I consider the original U.S. Constitution of 1787, Article VI has had the greatest effect on how I live in the United States, albeit not directly. In Article VI, the U.S. Constitution was declared the supreme and ultimate authority of law in the United States. As such, any other law—local, county, or state—must be in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, or it is not binding. This key element in the Constitution is what opened the way for Jehovah’s Witnesses to freely practice their faith in the United States, no matter what other laws may be passed from time to time to regulate and suppress them. I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I appreciate being a recipient of this wonderful provision.

Among other things, observing my religious faith includes refraining from pledging allegiance to the flag. My religion also encourages me to talk with my neighbors about the “good news” in the Bible, generally by engaging in what we call the “house-to-house ministry.” These are well-known—and at times, misunderstood—aspects of my religion. Unfortunately, this has inspired both state and local governments to keep passing laws aimed at thwarting our religious practices. But the Constitution guarantees the right for us to freely exercise our religion; so through the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to use the court system to overturn these illegal statutes, sometimes going all the way to the Supreme Court. Even as recently as 2002, we have been involved in litigation at the Supreme Court level to affirm our right to freely participate in the house-to-house preaching work unhindered. And yet again, the Supreme Court upheld our constitutional rights. This was the 48th Supreme Court victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a long line of cases going back many decades. These landmark decisions would not have been possible were it not for the Sixth Amendment declaring the Constitution was the supreme law of the United States.

I love the United States, and I truly appreciate the freedoms that have been endowed upon me as a citizen. Our Constitution is the reason I can freely practice my religion. That document is responsible for eliminating many of the anxieties and persecutions I might otherwise be experiencing due to prejudice-based laws and ordinances. “When a state passes a law that conflicts with the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has the power to declare that state law unconstitutional and unenforceable” (Hames & Ekern, 2015). Because our founding fathers made sure that every other law that might come into existence would be answerable to the Constitution, per Article VI, it has thwarted the many attempts in the past to regulate freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I am very blessed for being able to practice my religion in the United States without fear of arrest or imprisonment, and Article VI of the Constitution paved the way for this First Amendment right to be enforced.

References: Hames, J. B. & Ekern, Y. (2015) Introduction to Law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson 

Photo of Taylor

Constitution Week Essay by Aubrey Taylor 
Had the iconic document signed on 1787 not come to be, present day America would be unimaginably different. Without the U.S. Constitution, it’s hard to picture what my life as a double minority would look like. For starters, I wouldn’t be preparing to vote for the first time this election, as without the 15th Amendment, African-American men would be prohibited from voting. On the bright side, without the First Amendment, no longer would eccentric strangers on street corners be able to harass my eardrums with their deranged beliefs. Although that sounds great in theory, in reality, the freedom of speech, amongst other rights granted in the U.S. Constitution, play a huge role in the lives of everyday Americans, including myself.

The constitutional principals are stitched into the fabric of my every day life. To me, the most important part of the Constitution is the First Amendment for it covers such a broad range of rights and acts as a basis for the following amendments. I can see the First Amendment coming to play in my life every Sunday when I go to church, and exercise my freedom of religion. When I walk into service, I don’t have to fear being caught by religion police or fear for my safety. Meanwhile, in the barren land of the Middle East, citizens lack their own religious freedom, and are regularly imprisoned and horrifically killed for not practicing Islamic religion. While I practice my own religion peacefully, someone overseas is being imprisoned for the same thing.

Also, as someone working towards a career in screenwriting, I find most of my creative inspiration comes from articles I read on the internet or things I watch on the news, television and film. Without the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and press, the government could begin heavily constricting the media I consume, much alike the censorship found in North Korea, Syria, and other countries. With such censorship, I would struggle being able to expand my knowledge of the world, thus limiting my creativity when writing.

Lastly, as an advocate for many social issues, specifically regarding minorities, the First Amendment is important as it allows me to assemble peacefully with others, and bring forth issues to the government without fear of retribution. Throughout history, this right to peacefully assemble, and freedom of speech, has allowed for so much progress to be made when it comes to human inequalities of all kinds. Without this freedom of speech, many of these issues would not have the chance to be heard and addressed.

I am blessed to have been born in a country where a sense of constant safety has been a part of my identity since the beginning. It is important for me to be fully aware of my constitutional rights as they’ve allowed me to experience a nation free of barbaric, isolating laws. Because of each and every amendment, “We the people” not only have the freedom to express our ideas that can change the world, but can grow in an environment where that is constantly encouraged.