Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Citizen's Almanac Part I

This past Monday, September 17th, was the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. A federal law, passed in 2004, designates September 17th as "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day". The purpose of the law, which can be found in 36 USC § 106, is to "commemorate the formation and signing on September 17, 1787, of the Constitution and recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens."   The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) commemorates the day by hosting a variety of naturalization ceremonies across the country.  However, the ceremonies are not the only way that USCIS celebrates the spirit of that day, nor is it limited to that day.

One of the best ways that USCIS tries to promote the importance of U.S. citizenship is by giving every new citizen a publication entitled, The Citizen's Almanac.   Many new citizens never even open the book to look  at it.   Natural-born citizens do not even know of its existence.   It is unfortunate because all citizens would benefit from reading it.  "The Citizen's Almanac" published in 2007 by the Office of Citizenship of USCIS, includes a variety of information on the U.S., such as "Patriotic Anthems and Symbols of the United States", "Fundamental Documents of American Documents" and "Landmark Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court".

One of the most important discussions in "The Citizen's Almanac" is that regarding the "inalienable rights" found in the Declaration of Independence.   The Declaration of Independence was an announcement to the world that the United States was independent.  It also provided the political philosophy that it would put into practice.  These are the "inalienable rights" discussed in the Declaration of Independence.  According to the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" (emphasis added).   

Unlike the rights found in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, the rights in the Declaration of Independence are not actionable. In other words, a person cannot sue the government claiming that the government is violating his rights under the Declaration of Independence.  However, studying these rights is as important, if not more important, than anything else in the comprehension of why the United States was created and in the understanding of many of the today's debates.  

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "inalienable" to mean "incapable of being alienated, surrendered or transferred."   Therefore, an inalienable right is one that no one, not even the government, can take from someone else.  The Declaration of Independence states that we have the inalienable right of "life".  However, the question of how far this right extends has created much debate in our country.  Does the right to life mean that the state and federal governments should never execute a person, no matter what crime that person may have committed?  Is abortion a violation of the right to life? 

Another inalienable right is the right of "liberty".  Can a person who commits a crime and is incarcerated, ever reclaim his liberty, or does the government have a right in certain cases to keep that person imprisoned for the rest of his life?  Does a person have the right of liberty to create a cartoon or movie that will knowingly offend others and lead to violence and even death?   Can a woman and her doctor terminate the life of an unborn child under the right of liberty?  Does a person have the right of liberty to hire whomever he wishes, regardless of immigration status?

Finally, the Declaration of Independence announced the inalienable right to the "pursuit of happiness".  This is probably the most debated of the inalienable rights.  Is the right related more to the pursuit or to the happiness?  If it is the former, then our country should focus on equal opportunity for all.  If it is the latter,  then national policy should aim at equal results for everyone.  Many argue that the pursuit of happiness means that our country should support small businesses through low taxes and limited regulations.  Others believe that the pursuit of happiness requires the distribution of wealth from the affluent to the disadvantaged.  

These are very important discussions that have existed and continue to permeate through our society. To further comprehend the arguments, it is essential to recognize their origin-- The Declaration of Independence.  Part of that study can be The Citizen's Almanac.   It is available for purchase from U.S. Government Printing Office at

 The above information is provided for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice or the formation of an attorney/client relationship.