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Paul Engel talks Constitution

Constitution Week Sept. 11-17

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 9/17/22

Saturday, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day. It marks the 235th anniversary of the signing of America’s governing document.  

But what exactly is the Constitution? What are some common …

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Paul Engel talks Constitution

Constitution Week Sept. 11-17


Saturday, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day. It marks the 235th anniversary of the signing of America’s governing document.  

But what exactly is the Constitution? What are some common myths about it? And how does it apply to today?  

“Constitution Study” creator Paul Engel says the U.S. Constitution is a tool to protect American liberties and our ability to self govern. But Americans are just walking right by it.  

Born in New York City and having lived outside of Albany, N.Y. most of his life, Engel says, growing up he was never really taught what the Constitution states. Rather, he was taught about the Constitution.  

“Twelve years of school and I learned about the Constitution—that it was written in 1787, bunch of white men signed it . . . . But what it actually says, is lost,” said Engel. 

When he read the Constitution himself, he thought, why not study the Constitution like one would study the Bible. After a 30-year IT career, Engel decided to start The Constitution Study in 2014.  

“It became, how can I leave this country freer for my daughter than it is today,” he said. And there was a hunger for it.  

Engel said one of the fatal flaws is the lack of teaching about the Constitution in law school. According to Engel, most lawyers he talked to say they study constitutional law and court opinions, not the document itself.  

However, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Its language supersedes state law and constitutions through the “supremacy clause,” Engel explained.  

Because of this, acts of congress are only legitimate if pursuant to the constitution, which was made evident in Marbury v Madison (1803). In it, Chief Justice John Marshall famously said, “A Law repugnant to the Constitution is void.” 

According to Engel, the Constitution fulfills the Declaration of Independence and is a “marriage” between the states. This marriage document does not deal with minute details but rather concepts.  

For example, “press” in the First Amendment is defined by Noah Webster (who was asked to edit the Federalist Papers) as the art or business of publishing. It’s a different take on the traditional understanding of the First Amendment.  

As another example, a lot of people reference “privacy” in the Fourth Amendment. Engel explained that the amendment does not mention “privacy.”  

Instead, it says you have a right “to be free from unlawful or unreasonable search and seizures.” To define “reasonable,” Engel once again references Webster, who defines it as what is “just and right.” In this way, the burden of proof is on the government, not the people.  

“That’s a mindset we’ve lost today,” Engel said.  

And because the Constitution deals with concepts, it remains relevant through time. If something in it seems ambiguous, Engel encourages readers to go to the people who wrote it through reading the Federalist Papers and the ratification debates.  

Myths about the Constitution  

In his Constitution Study, Engel has a teaching called “The Three Myths of the Constitution.” 

For one, the federal government is made up of three co-equal branches. This is false. 

Engel said almost all power is delegated towards Congress. Outside of executing what Congress sets forth, the president (in the executive branch) can do very little (he can pardon and meet foreign dignitaries, for example). 

“If you think about the role of the president over the last several decades, it is much more a king than a chief executive,” said Engel.  

Second, the length of a federal judge’s appointment is for life. This is also false. 

“They serve during their ‘good behavior’,” Engel said, referencing Article 3, Section I of the Constitution, which states, “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”  

“So, when you look at a judge who routinely ignores their oath to support the Constitution, when they routinely put their opinion or opinions of their predecessors above the law and above the Constitution, that’s bad behavior,” he said. 

And third, voters directly vote for the president. This is false. 

Rather, voters vote for an electorate. “That’s because the president does not work for ‘we the people;’ he works for the states,” said Engel.  

Engel said people need to remember the country is a republic. People have the power and vote for representatives who become public servants.  

“The Constitution created the federal government. It created its boundaries,” Engel explained. The Tenth Amendment says any power not delegated to the United States by the Constitution doesn’t belong to it. It belongs to the people or to the states.”  

He added, “We have been misinformed that all power comes out of Washington. It does not. The states are not vassals of Washington D.C.; they are its creator,” said Engel.  

Engel says the very first thing people can do is read the Constitution for themselves. It was written so a poor 18th century farmer could read it, remaining clear and unambiguous. 

John Jay, one of the (albeit obscure) Founding Fathers said, “Every member of the State ought diligently to read and to study the constitution of his country and teach the rising generation to be free.”  

Once you’ve read it, Engel said learn to apply it in local government. This year, Bedford County, the Tennessee House of Representatives, and the Governor have declared the week of Sept. 11 through Sept. 17Constitution week. Engel drafted the language for all three proclamations. 

“The power exists in the people,” he said. “Knowing it is a superpower.” For more information, visit https://constitutionstudy.com/.