Constitution Day Lecture Features Jay Sekulow

Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, gave the third annual David Aldrich Nelson Lecture in Constitutional Jurisprudence on Sept. 17 in the Chapel. He talked about the importance of the freedom of speech and freedom of religion in American society.

Sekulow began the Constitution Day lecture by talking about his recent trip to China, where he took part in a conference on the rule of law, liberty and religion. The fundamental question of the conference was “what is liberty?” He argued that this was the same question that confronted the Constitutional framers more than 200 years ago. Although there was no clear consensus at the conference, Sekulow said he believes that our Constitutional framers got the question right.

He argued that America’s greatest strength lies in its Bill of Rights, particularly in the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. Sekulow is a passionate defender of these liberties and has argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court as the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice. He has argued cases on such controversial issues as abortion, campaign finance reform, and bible and prayer clubs in schools. In each of these cases, Sekulow has fought for the side that he believes was denied the fundamental rights granted by the U.S. Constitution.

One of the cases that Sekulow argued before the Supreme Court involved a group of students who wanted to start a bible and prayer club at their local high school. The school argued that even though there were clubs of all sorts at the high school, including young Democrats and young Republicans clubs, the existence of a bible and prayer studies club would violate the establishment clause of the U.S. constitution and would cause students to think that the school was endorsing one religion over all others. Sekulow argued that, under the Equal Access Act as well the Bill of Rights, the high school students could not be denied access to school resources based on the content of the speech. Doing so, he believed, would establish a dangerous precedent in our society and would only lead to censorship. He won the case 8-1.

Sekulow explained that he took many of the controversial cases because Americans “must not censure ideas they do not find politically palatable, but must instead encourage even more discussion on that idea.” He frequently remarked that even though he may not agree with someone else’s viewpoint, he would never assert that that viewpoint added nothing to the debate. Sekulow said, “People cannot defend their own beliefs without first understanding and respecting the beliefs of others.”

He also urged professors and students to always keep an open mind on campus. He argued that “colleges and Universities are the marketplaces of ideas,” and that to stifle those ideas would be to rob students of the opportunity to challenge and learn more about their own. No idea or statement, in Sekulow’s opinion, should ever be belittled or ignored. Instead, he argued, all groups comprising all faiths and beliefs should and must be heard if our great experiment in democracy is to live up to the framers’ original promise.

The lecture was cosponsored by Libertas Americana and the Alexander Hamilton Institute.

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