Constitution Day marked by high student awareness, greater turnout

Murray State commemorated the 225th birthday of the United States’ Constitution Monday with a day-long series of lectures from primarily Murray State faculty.

Constitution Day is celebrated each Sept. 17, and celebrates not only the document itself and the freedoms it grants Americans, but also the men who risked their lives by creating and signing it in 1787.

The U.S. Constitution is renowned as being the supreme law of the land. It established the three branches of government, legislative, executive and judicial. It also frames the principles of federalism and confirms its federal powers.

Presentations kicked off at 9:30 a.m. in the Freed Curd Auditorium, the location where all but two of the programs were held, and lectures continued all day.

The Office of the Provost, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Criminal Justice Program, department of government, law and international affairs and the department of history organized and sponsored the day’s activities.

The faculty who spoke came from the sponsoring departments, and all spoke free of charge on the topic of their choice relating to the Constitution.

The subjects of the lectures were diverse: how the Constitution was interpreted in recent court cases, religion and the Constitution, how the upcoming 2012 presidential elections are influenced by this document and how, in general, the Constitution affects daily life.

Martin Battle, assistant professor of humanities and fine arts, was a key part of making the events of Constitution Day possible for Murray State and said when organizing the event, they strove to make it much more academic than the previous year, because last years events were more exclusively focused on the legal aspects and the impact of the Constitution on laws and court rulings.

An estimated 700 students and residents attended the Constitution Day lectures Monday, the number bolstered by the addition of approximately 150 high school students from both Murray and Calloway County high schools. This is the first year students from the high school were invited to the event.

Battle said it is important for people to study the Constitution and learn all they can because of how influential it is in our everyday lives. Battle called the Constitution the cornerstone of American democracy.

He said despite the Constitution being such a talked about and present force in citizen’s lives, it is misunderstood and not everyone who talks about it understands its purpose. Due to this, he said there is a definite need for a day like Constitution Day.

A total of seven presentations were made throughout the day, each exhibition lasting roughly an hour with some time left over for questions. Two to three faculty members spoke together at each exposition, the last faculty speaker ending around 4:30 p.m.

James C. Clinger, associate professor and director of humanities and fine arts spoke Monday morning in a presentation entitled “Political Science Examinations of Constitutional Issues,” and along with Battle, was responsible for organizing the event. He said calling the events of Constitution Day at Murray State a “celebration” is misleading.

Clinger said Murray State had been furnishing students with programming on Constitution Day, and holding special events for the day, even before it became required by law.

The law establishing the holiday was passed in 2004. Before the ammendment, the day was a holiday, but was known as Citizenship Day.

In the past, however, Constitution Day at Murray State has meant apple pie contests, opportunities to dress up like famous Americans and has not been necessarily education oriented. The original event was built to build student interest in a fun way.

Clinger said the purpose of Constitution Day at Murray State this year was not to inform attendees about the origins of the document, or about what the original purpose of the Constitution was, but to show how prominent it still is in 2012.

He said the Constitution is one of the most used documents in history.

The main event of the day did not come from the faculty presenters, but was a presentation from Murray State alum and Kentucky Supreme Court Justice, Bill Cunningham.

Cunningham spoke to more than 250 audience members, mostly students, in a crowded Curris Center Theatre at 7 p.m.

While Cunningham did speak primarily about the 4th and 10th amendments of the Constitution, he also touched on what he called, “the miracle at Philadelphia,” the drama and struggles behind the creation and signing of the Constitution.

Cunningham ran through the details of several cases, those both national and that fell into his own lap at the state level, and showed how the Constitution was called into use.

Written by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer.