The past few years have seen much debate about the meaning and use of the Constitution in the news, so perhaps it is timely that this week’s issue falls on the “Bill of Rights Day,” Dec. 15.

It was on this date in 1791 that the first ten amendments to the Constitution, penned by James Madison, were ratified.

Within these amendments, we find words that are fundamental to our identity as Americans. They shape our ideas of freedom, limited government and rule of law. They also were needed to deal with the friction already formed between those supporting states’ rights and those supporting a united federal government.

These ideas date back to the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215.

Every day, we in the news business function with the mandate of the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Bill of Rights includes controversial freedoms, such as the Second Amendment right to bear arms. This was put in place in a nation born in armed rebellion.

The Bill of Rights protects us from unlawful search and seizure, cruel or unusual punishment and ensures rights to due process under the law, including a speedy trial and a jury of our peers. We take for granted the rule of law that applies to all, but earlier generations had suffered the whims of capricious monarchs and the injustice of forced confessions.

It is an achievement worth celebrating.

And now we find ourselves at a crossroads in the American experiment.

Former President Donald Trump, the face of the Republican Party at this time, suggested the termination of the Constitution on social media.

“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” he said.

This is a disturbing statement from a man we watched take an oath of office swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Columnist Leonard Pitts said, “Last week, Donald Trump finally crossed the Rubicon.”

It is easy to dismiss this as more toxic rhetoric spouted recklessly into the social infoverse with little real thought behind it. However, words matter, and those who would lead nations must be accountable for what they say.

We have also seen in recent years people invoking the Constitution on all sides of various arguments. In some cases, one wonders if those making these kinds of arguments have even read the document.

An example that comes to mind was the outburst at a candidates’ debate at Rockland City Hall in October when Republican candidate Heather Sprague was asked, “Do you believe that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020, and will you accept the results of the election here in Maine?”

A member of the audience argued the question was in violation of the Constitution. This comment does not seem based in any legal interpretation of the actual document of the Constitution. Instead, for him, the Constitution has become a mere symbol for what he sees as right.

Bill of Rights Day, Dec. 15, can serve as an opportunity to read and think about the Constitution. We operate under the belief that America’s system of government depends on an informed citizenry.

The Constitution’s freedoms are not to be taken for granted or lightly. They are the result of many years of struggle, of intellectual rigor and debate, of sacrifices made to create a better future for a great nation. They can be lost in a campaign of misinformation.

Consider the value of these rights and the value placed on them by would-be leaders next time you cast your vote.

The editorial board for The Courier-Gazette and The Camden Herald collaborate on items of public interest.