Magna Carta goes on display in Philadelphia center

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Those looking for an extra dose of history this Fourth of July can travel to Philadelphia, beginning today, to see the Magna Carta, a 1215 English document that cemented the principles of freedom, the rule of law and due process in Anglo-American politics.

One of the four surviving copies of the historic document was shown in a special “sneak peek” ceremony yesterday and will be publicly displayed in Philadelphia”s National Constitution Center (NCC) through July 25.

“Our great tradition of liberty … begins with the Magna Carta,” said Joseph M. Torsella, president and chief executive officer of the NCC, an independent nonprofit organization that tries to educate the public about the U.S. Constitution.

The Magna Carta, written by English noblemen to place several limits on the power of King John, included the idea that no free man could be unlawfully seized or imprisoned and that the king was not to buy or sell justice.

These principles were later referenced by America”s Founding Fathers as they broke free from Britain. The Magna Carta is accepted as a basis for modern constitutional law; a depiction of King John being coerced into signing the document adorns a panel on the door to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is the cornerstone of American democracy,” said Bill Peterson, president of Verizon Pennsylvania.

Verizon Communications and the National Education Association helped pay to bring the document to the United States on loan from England’s Lincoln Cathedral, which sought out the NEA to help bring this copy to the United States, a transfer that cost more than $65,000 and took two years to accomplish.

“We want it to be seen by as many people as possible,” the Rev. Philip Buckler, dean of Lincoln Cathedral, explained.

He said the Magna Carta speaks to the rule of law, freedom of religion and limiting the power of rulers as ideas that “continue to be relevant today.”

During yesterday”s unveiling ceremony, children from the NCC“s American Adventure Camp performed a play about the Magna Carta, which means Great Charter in Latin, and actor James Earl Jones read excerpts from the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

NEA President Reg Weaver said he hopes viewing the Magna Carta will “help America”s students understand our nation”s values and deepen their love of history.” The NEA is celebrating its 150th anniversary this week in Philadelphia at its annual convention. Mr. Weaver said his group”s goals reflect the Magna Carta.

“We believe that our work to close achievement gaps and reduce the dropout rate is a natural outgrowth of the great principles that were set forth in these remarkable documents,” he said.

Meanwhile, Verizon“s education and literacy program called Thinkfinity is providing several Magna Carta-related lesson plans and teaching ideas on its Web site, for teachers, tutors and history buffs.

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