Constitution Has Endured Test of Time But Isn’t

By Deseret News Jan 16, 1991, 12:00am MST

Kenneth S. Rogerson, Staff Writer

For the past 15 years people have been hearing the word bicentennial, and now that 200th anniversary celebration is nearly over, said BYU President Rex E. Lee.

Lee spoke to BYU students in his traditional beginning-of-semester devotional Tuesday and told them that the last decade and a half, culminating in this year’s 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, has been a celebration of U.S. documents that have endured the test of time.”The unique blessings we enjoy as Americans come because of the Constitution, which is probably the most successful government undertaking in the history of civilization,” Lee said.

In addition to recounting a history of the Constitution, Lee said this supreme law permeates many aspects of daily life.

Last week the U.S. Congress approved a resolution to support President Bush if he decides to use force in the Persian Gulf.

Lee said this event was based “on the rock solid separation of powers,” referring to Congress’ role in the decision.

Saddam Hussein can call the shots in his country and Iraq may be more efficient because of this, Lee said. But this constitutional division of powers makes for a more thorough system that will last.

This does not mean that the U.S. Constitution is a perfect document.

On the contrary, Lee said there have been many imperfect parts of the Constitution including an early stipulation that allowed slavery through 1808 and, until the 17th Amendment, a clause which said U.S. senators should be elected by the state legislatures and not by popular vote.

There are people who will say that leadership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said that the Constitution will be “hanging by a thread,” Lee said.

These people did say these things, Lee said, “but they did not define it and others have taken it upon themselves to fill in the holes.”

Lee said, “The Constitution is not scripture.”

According to Lee, there is another hole in the Constitution.

“The Constitution is silent on the vast body of laws that regulate people and organizations,” he said.

The document deals mainly with regulating governmental operations, except for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

“When we speak of constitutional rights, we speaks of rights given to citizens through government,” Lee said.

And, Lee said, if people wanted to alter that focus toward protecting more private interests, they would discover that constitutional law is extremely difficult to change.

“Of the thousands of proposed amendments over that last 200 years, only 16 (not including the first 10 which passed quickly) have been passed,” Lee said. That is an average of only eight per century.

There is something solid about constitutional law, he said.