Constitution Reading on House Floor Mired by Yelling, Objections

By reading the amended version, members could avoid controversial passages.

January 6, 2011, 10:59 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2011— -- Members of the House of Representatives today read the Constitution on the floor of the House chamber, marking a first for Congress. While lawmakers read the amended version to skirt the original's controversial passages, the reading wasn't without its own share of controversy.

A woman sitting in the House gallery was arrested for yelling while a lawmaker read a passage about a requirement that a U.S. president must be a natural born citizen.

Forty-eight-year-old Theresa Cao of New York shouted, according to Politico, "Except Obama, except Obama. Help us Jesus."

Cao was charged with unlawful conduct, disruption of Congress and later released. The recitation went on as scheduled.

The reading -- which lasted roughly an hour and a half -- was a nod to Tea Party activists, who helped propel many virtually unknown lawmakers into House and Senate seats, gaining a Republican majority in the House.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a Tea Party favorite who first proposed the idea of reading the Constitution, said today's move would be a "historic and symbolic reading" that showed the new House majority "is dedicated to our Constitution and the principles for which it stands."

"We hope it will inspire many more Americans to read the Constitution," Goodlatte said.

The original Constitution has several controversial sections, such as the Three-Fifths clause, which states slaves are "three fifths of all other persons," and the clause prohibiting alcohol, which was later repealed.

None of these original passages were in the amended version, which avoided the awkward question of who reads what.

Democrats were invited to take part in the reading. Overall, there was little opposition from the minority, but the reading was mired by some objections and an unexpected interruption.

Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-Ill., expressed concern about eliminating the reading of the controversial passages, reminding lawmakers of their seriousness and sensitivity to African-Americans.

"Many of us don't want that to be lost upon reading of our sacred document," he said.

Republicans said the amended version was chosen after consultation with the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service, pointing out that it's the document that stands today.

Members still had to cover some awkward topics, such as the 16th Amendment, which gives Congress the power to invoke a federal income tax, a sore point for many conservatives.

The reading was first come, first serve, and lawmakers were not assigned to specific passages, but Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement, was designated to read the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States.

Democrats were called on to read, in no specific order, to ensure bipartisanship in the exercise.

ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events