Q&A with Keith Bierly, president of Constitution Day Centre Celebration
It doesn’t hold the same revered place in our national psyche as Independence Day, but Constitution Day is gaining momentum in Centre County.
Born in the wake of the contentious 2016 presidential election, Constitution Day Centre Celebration brings together residents of various viewpoints to explore and celebrate constitutional rights, responsibilities, and protections – with a lot of fun mixed in.
This year’s event, which is free, takes place Sunday, September 16, from 1-6 p.m. at the Grange Park grandstand in Centre Hall.
Constitution Day Centre board president Keith Bierly, a former county commissioner and district judge, tells us what to expect.
T&G: How did Constitution Day Centre Celebration come about?
Bierly: Following the 2016 presidential election, I witnessed more political animosity than anytime during my 35 years as a public official. I have been aware of Constitution Day for literally decades, and have given speeches on that day through the years to the Daughters of the American Revolution and other groups.
In early 2017, I began contacting people to see if they would help me start a county-wide Constitution Day and it took off from there. Most of these celebrations are school-based or are held by groups such as the DAR. Obviously, Philadelphia has their major celebration every year, but we believe our celebration is the second-best-attended in Pennsylvania, and unique in our “Constitution Village” concept. Today, Constitution Day Centre is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a board of directors, which I chair.
T&G: Does today’s highly charged political climate increase the importance of events like this?
Bierly: It is important that our Constitution, the foundation of our democratic form of government, be discussed in a civil and bipartisan manner. We believe President John F. Kennedy got it right when he said in his inaugural address that “civility is not a sign of weakness.” We will have individuals and groups in more than 40 stations with knowledge of their particular section of the Constitution who will interact with the attendees. Essentially, we are bringing a live Constitution to you.
T&G: What do you hope people will take from the event?
Bierly: A better understanding of our Constitution and how it affects our daily lives. While we believe our Constitution Village generates enormous interest in various provisions of the document, we also have multiple bands, food trucks, and even a Constitution birthday cake to add to the event. We hope the attendees think more about how our government is to function, and how the checks and balances between the branches of government, as well as the levels of government, keep us free. Additionally, it would be refreshing if more people took time to study the Constitution year-round. Everyone will receive a free Constitution at the celebration.
T&G: Who are your speakers and what topics will they be addressing?
Bierly: We are asking various members of the community to read a one-minute quote reflecting their favorite aspect of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, etc. We have judges, school superintendents, class valedictorians, law school professors, social service agency leaders, and others, ready to go. We are still in the process of working with state and federal officials regarding a main address, which will be announced as they are confirmed.
T&G: Given recent public discourse, the booths on the 1st and 2nd amendments will no doubt be popular. Who are some of the exhibitors and what can visitors learn?
Bierly: The 1st Amendment tent last year was a big hit and it will be even bigger this year. We have various religious leaders addressing the freedom of religion expressed in the amendment; PSU journalism professors on the freedom of the press; librarians on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly; and others with a more general approach to the amendment. This year will feature professional journalists with an exhibit.
Our 2nd Amendment booth is staffed by a retired long-time county sheriff with experience in the Marine Corps, state police, and sheriff’s office for decades. With him, rights and responsibilities under the 2nd amendment are real.
T&G: What other booths do you see as particularly important or interesting this year?
Bierly: While the majority of the exhibits focus on a specific constitutional provision, many come in under the preamble to the Constitution, which states, “promote the general welfare.” We wanted to feature agencies that make central Pennsylvania a better place to live. Consequently, agencies that help protect the environment; protect men, women and children from abuse; aid our homeless population; or provide other essential services are featured.
T&G: It’s not all about the Constitution. What are some of the other highlights?
Bierly: Our goal from Day One has been to educate and entertain. We will feature several musical acts including Jackie Brown and the Gill Street Band, and Cone of Silence from last year’s lineup. Elton John impersonator Tommy Lee Thompson from Akron, Ohio, will perform songs “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Candle in the Wind,” among other classics. We will be announcing one or two more bands in the coming weeks. Our huge Constitution Day birthday cake was a big hit last year and will return, along with multiple food trucks.
T&G: Anything else you’d like to address?
Bierly: While we have a great board of directors and dozens of great volunteers as exhibitors, we can always use more support. If you want to be a part of the Constitution Day Centre activities, just contact me at [email protected] and we will get you set up. We can always use more financial support, and checks can be mailed to Constitution Day Centre, P. O. Box 397, Centre Hall, PA 16828.
For more information, visit CostitutionDayCentre.org.