Burger sees fund-raising troubles ahead for Constitution's birthday celebration

With the Statue of Liberty gleaming anew in New York Harbor following her $265 million facelift, the United States is gearing up for yet another celebration of American values. But Chief Justice Warren Burger says he is concerned that in this era of federal budget constraints the upcoming celebration of the bicentennial of the US Constitution may run into trouble raising funds.

Mr. Burger, chief justice of the US Supreme Court and chairman of the Constitution Bicentennial Commission, quipped at a press conference Monday that he was worried about asking Americans for more money in the aftermath of the Statue of Liberty fundraising blitz organized by Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca.

With a congressionally authorized budget of only $12.5 million (compared to $200 million for the 1976 Bicentennial Commission), Chief Justice Burger says his commission is going to have to begin private-sector fund raising efforts.

He says he hopes Americans who contributed to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty won't react to the Constitution celebration with the old excuse: ``We gave at the office.''

``If these programs that we want are to come about, there has got to be some private money raised,'' Burger says.

The commission has not yet decided on the final format of the celebration. But the chief justice says, ``Television will probably be the single most important medium.''

Burger added that the commission will also sponsor essay contests at each of the nation's 40,000 high schools, and similar events at US law schools. It will also work in concert with state and local groups to promote a greater appreciation of the Constitution.

``This will not involve parades and fireworks nearly as much as the 1976 Bicentennial,'' Burger says.

In essence, the celebration is aimed at dusting off the Constitution.

Burger sees his task as giving the country ``a history and civics lesson.''

``Everyone has taken it for granted,'' the chief justice says. ``It is something that we have always had and therefore we have grown accustomed to it.''

Burger likens the writing of the Constitution to other revolutionary events in history, including the development of the printing press and the atomic bomb.

``This was the beginning of the end of the divine right of kings,'' Burger says.

``In 1787, [the Constitution and its concepts] was something completely new,'' he adds. ``Some philosophers had dreamed about it, thought about it. Some of them thought it wouldn't work.''

The chief justice emphasized that most Americans don't know how close the constitution came to not being ratified by the 13 original states in 1787 and 1788. Rhode Island rejected it. And in the key state of Virginia, it passed only by a slim 10-vote margin. In New York, the margin of approval was just three votes.

To hear the chief justice talk about it, the story of the constitution has all the ingredients of a major television docu-drama.

In the months to come, the commission will work to bring that drama and debate to the attention of all Americans, and particularly young Americans.

``We hope to get these things fleshed out so that school kids will be talking about it too,'' Burger says.

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