I've been tasked with heading a committee to update the constitution for our church. This comes after much confusion and disagreement about the exact meaning of some existing phrases.

I know that we will have to find a balance between being properly brief and still having sufficient wording to be clear. To that end, I'm wondering if footnotes might be reasonable. My thought is that these are a non-binding but plain-english description of portions that we anticipate being subject to confusion after memories have faded. They would also be used as a place to reference related definitions in other documents.

Is there a proper way of including footnotes (or another way to accomplish the same basic goal)?

I'm not sure this is the right forum, but I didn't see another community that looked like a better fit. Likewise, I didn't see a tag that looked like a close fit, but as this is a question about an organizations constitution, not a nations, I thought parliamentary-procedure was the closest option.


The prevailing school of constitutional interpretation in the United States is Originalism, which states that the Constitution must be interpreted as it was intended at time of writing (the 18th Amendment would be interpreted by what the language meant in 1918, where as the Bill of Rights would be understood by the language use in 1791, when they were ratified). It is opposed by the concept of the "Living Constitution" which allows for linguistic drift to inform interpretation... that is, any particular law in the constitution changes as the use of those words changes.

Originalism does allow for works not in the constitution to be used in constitutional law. The most famous series of works were the Federalist Papers, which are a series of documents where the framers of the constitution discuss what the rational for various segments of the constitution was. The famous phrase "Separation of Church and State" occurs nowhere in the Constitution, but was sourced from a letter written in 1802 wherein Thomas Jefferson explained the reasoning behind the First Amendment language on Religion.

I would say that the Constitution should be plain-language and not complicated with scenarios or theoretical. But you should provide context to what is the right interpretation and what is the wrong interpretation, in the form of a cliff notes version or some other recorded explination of the rules that does a bit more of a drill down into the intended meaning by both you and anyone helping you writing it.


One approach which is used by the folks who promulgate the Restatements of the common law used by courts as a summary of the relevant law (the American Law Institute) and by promulgators of many proposed Uniform and Model state laws (The Uniform Law Commission also called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws) is to approve an "official commentary" to accompany the black letter text of the constitution itself.

This is also basically the approach taken by the Roman Catholic Church in clarifying doctrine regarding the meaning of the language of its various creeds and the interpretation given to certain Bible passages.

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