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Constitution Day To Explore Emerging, Controversial Issues

Sept. 10, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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painting of men signing the Constitution

Over the past year, the United States Constitution and its interpretation have been front-and-center in the political and media worlds, as the Supreme Court’s recent controversial decisions on the Voting Rights Act, the Affordable Care Act and the Defense of Marriage Act have given everyone from politicians to pundits plenty to discuss.

Sam Houston State University will expand on some of those discussions and highlight emerging controversial constitutional issues with speakers from the Texas Freedom Network and SHSU’s political science, history, criminal justice and philosophy departments for its annual two-day Constitution Day celebration.

"Constitution Day is a day to remember the role the Constitution has played in organizing our political system and providing a framework in which to discuss pressing social and moral issues over the past two centuries," said Thomas Cox, associate professor of history and chair of the Constitution Day committee.

“We deliberately chose controversial issues because they generate student and public interests about the important issues which lie at the heart of our culture,” he said. “The Constitution and courts are, likewise, the forums in which we debate and, hopefully, resolve these issues.”

The presentations will commence on Monday (Sept. 16), when keynote speaker Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, will share her thoughts on “Science, Scandal and the Texas State Board of Education,” from 4-6 p.m. in Academic Building IV’s Olson Auditorium.

The Texas State Board of Education has been at the forefront of constitutional discussion as “ground zero for some of the nation’s most bruising culture-war battles,” according to Miller.

“In 2009 a politically motivated faction of the board succeeded in inserting misleading language into high school textbook standards intended to undermine instruction on evolution and climate change,” she said. “This fall, the board is in the midst of a once-a-decade adoption of new textbooks based on those flawed standards. Since content approved for Texas classrooms influences classrooms nationwide, the debate could be one of the biggest First Amendment battles in the country this year.”

Constitution DayThe Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of more than 60,000 religious and community leaders. Based in Austin, the group acts as the state’s watchdog, monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders.

On Tuesday (Sept. 17), a series of presentations will be held in Lowman Student Center Room 320, facilitated by SHSU faculty members, beginning with political science professor John Domino, who will address civil rights from 9:30-10:50 a.m.

“Texas Supreme Court Justice Bob Gammage: A Legacy of Civil Rights & Liberties” will examine the judicial record of Bob Gammage, an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court and an SHSU alumnus, who presided over a number of landmark civil rights and liberties cases in the 1980s and 1990s.

“He (Grammage) presided over some of the most important desegregation and civil rights cases in Texas court history,” Cox said. “Usually we hear about federal civil rights cases; Gammage’s career provides insight into such decisions in state court.”

At 11 a.m., Cox will expand on Domino’s discussion, highlighting some of the ways in which Texas has helped shape landmark Supreme Court decisions.

“Texas Precedents: The Lone Star State, U.S. Supreme Court, and the Supreme Law of the Land” will examine local people’s impact on federalism (Texas v. White, 1869), abortion (Roe v. Wade, 1973), flag burning (Texas v. Johnson, 1989), gun control (U.S. v. Lopez, 1995), and church and state (Van Orden v. Perry 2005).

From 12:30-1:50 criminal justice professor Michael Vaughn will analyze two recent cases pertaining to issues on “The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause and Ineffective Counsel.”

“One of the most litigated issues in criminal cases in appellate courts is the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel,” Vaughn said. “Another right from the Sixth Amendment is the confrontation clause—or the right to confront witnesses that accuse an offender of wrongdoing.”

Finally, associate professor of philosophy Glenn Sanford will round out the Constitution Day presentations with “Science, Religion, and the Constitution: Teaching Evolution and the Bible in Public Schools,” from 2-3:20 p.m.

His talk will focus on three areas—early efforts to challenge inclusion of the Bible in public school, attempts to exclude evolution or get equal time for creation science/intelligent design, and recent efforts to reintroduce credit for courses on the Bible in public schools.

Each Constitution Day attendee will receive a copy of the “The Hip Guide to the United States Constitution,” a pocket sized copy of the Constitution with commentary on the history and meaning of the document.

The Constitution Day celebration is sponsored by the SHSU American Democracy Project, the departments of history and political science, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For more information, contact Cox at 936.294.4804 or thc001@shsu.edu.



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