Fourth of July. Thanksgiving. Labor Day. The majority of United States citizens know about these national holidays, but not many people were out celebrating Constitution Day on September 17.
In order to educate students about the country’s past, Congress passed a law in 2004 mandating that every university that receives any sort of public funding must have a day on September 17 (or the day after if it is a weekend) to celebrate the United States Constitution. To uphold this law and educate students and community members, the Political Science department and the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization held a debate on Monday in Persson Hall titled “Public Religion Under the Constitution: Past, Present and Future.”
“The purpose [of this event] is to celebrate Constitution Day by learning some important information about our Constitution and in this case, we chose to discuss the First Amendment,” Professor of Political Science and moderator of the event Robert Kraynak said.
The panelists, Associate Professor of Political Science Barry Shain and Professor of Political Science Tim Byrnes, chose the separation of church and state as the topic for the discussion.
Beyond intending to learn more about the First Amendment, some students attended simply to see the two professors square off.
“[I attended the event] because I respect both professors and I knew that they would be opinionated on the subject matter and it would be quite entertaining,” senior Adam Wolk said.
Shain began the debate by asking the audience, “How many believe that the separation of church and state is a lie?” After several hands went up, Shain went on to discuss the history of religion within the state.
When Kraynak announced that time for the first speech was up, Shain turned over the microphone to Byrnes, who wished everyone a happy Constitution Day and proceeded to discuss cases that deal with the separation of church and state and how these provisions can be applied to modern life.
After a period of short rebuttals, the floor was turned over to the audience, who asked questions for 45 minutes ranging from whether Colgate identifies itself with a religion to whether there is a gray area between being a secular nation and a theocracy.
At the end of the debate, the audience left the “celebration” with insight about the Constitution and the ongoing national debate about the role of religion in politics from two scholars.
The Political Science department plans to host an event like this one every year on Constitution Day.