Interactive Constitution Explores Big Questions of U.S. Provisions and Rights

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In the American’s Creed from 1918, William Tyler Page memorably declared a duty to support the U.S. Constitution. But how can citizens of the 21st century deepen their relationship with the nation’s founding document?

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has launched the Interactive Constitution, an online tool that transforms the famous document into an educational experience. It is the centerpiece of a $5.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

The website allows users to click on the provisions of the Constitution and explore the big questions they raise with the help of explanatory material and statements provided by a wide range of scholars. It’s a one-stop resource for gaining perspectives from across the political and philosophical spectrum that will inform many of the debates that are currently occurring in the U.S. “The center has tried (and, I think, largely succeeded) to provide a balanced presentation. The results are very impressive,” says Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law in the Washington Post.

A related tool is the Rights Interactive, which provides a similar means of exploring the U.S. Bill of Rights. For example, users can click on the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures and compare the text with that of the Japanese Constitution’s equivalent prohibition—which it matches almost word for word—or the Russian Constitution, which, by contrast, looks entirely different.

“It’s obviously a polarized time,” says Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, noting that the project is a way for citizens and students to engage thoughtfully in constitutional debate, and to find common ground. “America’s founding documents, and the Constitution in particular, have inspired a great conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity that continues to this day. It is a conversation that we need more students to be prepared to join through the careful study of these remarkable documents,” continues College Board president, David Coleman. The College Board has developed lesson plans that utilize the new tools. “It’s easy to say to students that each word matters. But you can show students that each word matters with the Constitution,” Coleman adds.

These conversations around freedom will continue when the National Constitution Center awards the 2015 Liberty Medal to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on October 26th. Established in 1988, the Liberty Medal annually honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. The Dalai Lama was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2012 for his long-standing engagement with multiple dimensions of science and with people far beyond his own religious traditions, which has made him an incomparable global voice for universal ethics, nonviolence, and harmony among world religions.