Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
− The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
Even after 227 years, the United States Constitution is still a fiercely debated topic, both on a national and a local level.
Most recently, the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble was put in the spotlight in Northfield’s own Bridge Square, with questions and concerns over both the Saturday noon-time silent war protest, as well as the more vocal religious preaching that takes place.
In conjunction with the national Constitution Day activities taking place, both Carleton College and St. Olaf College will be hosting events that will address both the history of the Constitution, the possible intent of its authors, as well as the impact the Constitution has on our daily lives.
Susannah Ottaway, a professor of History at Carleton College, hopes that when people attend the Carleton College event − slated Wednesday − and that they leave with a “clearer sense of what is actually in the Constitution, and with a more nuanced vision of the ways that the Constitution itself was built on compromise.”
Ottaway also hopes that attendees leave with questions, as well.
“How do we apply these principles in our daily lives? How do we engage in the most productive discussions about these issues, especially when lines have been so clearly drawn, and temperatures run so high?” she said.
Speaking at the St. Olaf event is David Robertson, the author of “The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers Were Really Thinking.” Associate Professor of Political Science Douglas Casson, who is assisting with the organization of the event, said that “institutions like ours depend on citizens who are informed about the structure and limits of political power.”
“It is also important − especially in times of political divisiveness − to be reminded of how the framers also found themselves in the midst of division and disagreement.” he said, noting that Robertson’s talk will focus on the compromises and negotiations that eventually led to the drafting of the Constitution.
Speaking at the Carleton event is Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson. He knows that everyone has a different opinion regarding the recent attention to the demonstrations in Bridge Square, but stressed that Constitution Day is “not about one local issue.” Nelson’s hope is that the evening’s program will focus more on what the Constitution means to people personally and professionally.
Assisting in adding youth voices from the community into the evening’s event, Zach Pruitt from the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative worked with students from the Mayor’s Youth Council and the District Youth Council to help discuss parts of the program and to select the students who would be speaking as well.
“The students provided valuable insights into the format of the event and the themes covered,” Pruitt said, adding that it has been fun to see the passion with which young people connect to the issues like freedom of speech.
In the press release about these Constitution Day programs, as well as a discussion slated in October at the Northfield Public Library, it’s stated that these events are connected to the Minnesota Humanities Center’s “Toward a More Perfect Union” initiative.
The broad partnership between the colleges, Northfield High School, Arcadia Charter School, the library, HCI, as well as the League of Women Voters and the Human Rights Commission, is a reflection of the “commitment among community organizations to encourage public discussion on important issues.”