Constitution Day panel looks to relate past to present

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As part of a celebration for Constitution Day, CSUN will host a panel discussion to look at how political decisions are made in relation to constitutional government and citizenship on Sept. 17 in the Sierra Center.

The three panelists, Sylvia Snowiss, political science professor, Christopher Shortell, political science professor, and Maureen Rubin, journalism professor, will discuss several issues, including Constitutional law, federalism and First Amendment freedoms.

“One of the most important of elements, as a university, is to make sure that students understand (that) citizenship is grounded in the Constitution,” said Rubin, director of Center for Community Service Learning. “We want you to vote. We want you to be active in your profession. We want you to have life-long commitment to caring about your community, your nation, (and) your place in the world.”

Constitution Day is a new event this year. A federal law was enacted this year requires that all schools receiving federal funding and federal agencies to hold educational programs about the Constitution. Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, pushed the law through Congress.

The requirement applies to all public schools and private schools that receive federal funds, and each school can arrange the celebration date and decide on just about any approach.

Constitution Day is Sept. 17 because members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

The intention of the educational program is to deepen students’ understanding of the Constitution and the responsibility of citizenship.

“It is a chance to raise questions about the government,” Shortell said.

“We are going to talk about executive presidential power, especially in the (case) of a terrorist threat and military response,” Snowiss said.

Rubin pointed out the importance of the relationships between states and the federal government as evidenced by Hurricane Katrina, and that these relationships are not just something a student finds in a textbook.

“We’re seeing the real-life effects,” she said, adding that there is a tremendous amount of debate about federalism surrounding how the Katrina aftermath.

“What you are hearing debate (about) is whose fault it is. George Bush is saying, ‘Who blew it? Who did not take care of people in New Orleans?'”

She also said freedom of speech and religion will be discussed, and questions will be thrown to the audience. Rubin also said Kanye West’s critical comments about the president will be discussed.

During an event broadcast on NBC two weeks ago, West said plainly that Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” The line was broadcast live on the East Coast, but omitted on West Coast feeds.

“We on the West Coast never heard that because NBC decided that the bad comment should not go over (its) airways, which (are) federally regulated,” Rubin said. “That can be (a) very complex issue of freedom of speech.”

The relationship between church and state, another part of the First Amendment, will also be discussed during the panel discussion.

“Should the federal government be funding church groups even (if) they’re doing good work? That’s the question you should care about,” Rubin said.

Panelist Snowiss said the Constitution is still a working document.

“We realize that it (has) done quite a good job, but not a perfect job. So we have to keep working on it. It’s our work to live together in peace.”

The panelists will show students how their understanding of the Constitution helps them analyze the news and issues better, so they can get involved.

“Everybody should be aware of the complexity of our society,” Rubin said.

Shortell said that every student should have some exposure to the Constitution.

“Even when there is no real controversy, we are always working on it, supporting it, are interpreting one way or another way.”

The three panelists said they hope as many students as possible participate in the discussion, since all issues on the table have a timely importance.

“The theme of panels is also what would be the biggest issue of constitution law in the next five, 10 and 20 years,” Shortell said.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to participate (in) the program,” said Marcella Tyler, executive director of public relations, marketing and communication for the Roland Tseng College of Extended Learning, which helped organize the event.

Tyler said between 100 and 200 people from campus and San Fernando Valley will likely attend the event.

Aya Oikawa can be reached at aya.oikawa.73@csun.edu.