Commentary: Read the U.S. Constitution to understand what's in there

In 1787, we're told

Our founding fathers did agree

To write a list of principles

For keepin' people free.

And it started out like this:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The words have been memorized by countless schoolchildren, often through a catchy Schoolhouse Rock ditty.

But the meaning of the Preamble and seven Articles of the main document that 39 men representing 12 states signed in 1787 has been — and will be — debated as long as there is a United States.

Does a strong federal government help make the union "more perfect" or less ideal?

Can "justice" be achieved through punishments that some consider justified and others find barbaric?

What promotes the "general welfare" in a nation as vast, diverse and complicated as ours?

And those bafflers don't even get to the skirmishes over the Bill of Rights, which was added two years later, or the 17 subsequent amendments.

Does free speech include disrespectful protests near military funerals or threats of violence against federal judges?

When does a cross on public property become an endorsement of religion?

What kinds of restrictions can the government place on gun ownership?

Who falls under the guarantee of citizenship for those born or naturalized here?

Voices on both the political right and left claim to want to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and return us to the core values our founding document embraces. Of course, they don't necessarily agree on where it is they want to take us.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.star-telegram.com.

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