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‘We the people’ redefined

Utahn rewrites Constitution to reflect diversity

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Being one of the nation's most historically revered documents was not enough, at least to those who felt it was not inclusive of all people.

The Constitution, on which every American's rights are based, has always had a pretty significant gap as far as 36-year-old Terry Harris is concerned.

It was written in a time when minorities and women were discounted and not considered equal. It was written before emancipation of African-American citizens and before women's suffrage. It was written when only 13 of the nation's 50 states existed.

"The Constitution is supposed to define who we the people are," Harris said. "We all knew who those weren't then."

Harris rewrote the first 10 amendments of the Constitution to reflect the diversity in the United States.

"The wording of the Constitution is just as important as the meaning behind it," he said. "I wanted everyone to feel important."

As an adjunct professor at Salt Lake Community College, he noticed how little people knew about the Constitution and how negatively some minorities and women view it.

"People would always ask who was the Constitution written for," Harris said. "They didn't feel like it included them."

As a black man from Mississippi, Harris didn't feel as if he was represented in the Constitution, either.

At least, not until he rewrote it.

"The People's Creed" defines who "we the people" are. It states that every man, woman and child of all nationalities share a foundation of democracy, freedom, justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Additional information:

Full text: The People's Creed

He doesn't expect his tinkering with the Constitution will change the more than 200-year-old document. Changes to the Constitution are rare. The last was done in 1992 when the 27th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting congressional pay raises from taking place until after a House election.

But the creed has had more success than Harris anticipated. It was meant as a study guide that he uses in all of his classes. His students read the creed before studying the Constitution.

The study guide, though, has been recognized by Utah officials and is on display in the Capitol through July 8. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, read it into the Congressional Record in 1999.

Since then, it has been on traveling display throughout many states, and one day Harris hopes it will be included in history text books.

"People always told me, 'You don't touch the Constitution,' " he said. "That's why I'm surprised by how many people have embraced it."

But his reworking of the Constitution is not the first or the last creed he plans to write. He began by writing a national African-American Creed, which was read in the U.S. House of Representatives and televised on C-SPAN, a National Nurses Creed and a National Science Students Creed.

He is secretive about his next project, saying that it could be a big deal not only in Utah but around the world. He said the newest creed will be unveiled sometime in October at a public meeting.

E-MAIL: tbarry@desnews.com