Friday, Sept. 16 was Constitution Day, but at Elizabethtown College, it was celebrated Thursday, Sept. 22 with a panel discussion focusing on how the Constitution applies to the events of today.
Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Dr. Rita Shah and Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Kyle Kopko, were the two professors on the panel. The student members were sophomore Aileen Ida, the president of the College Democrats and Features Editor of the Etownian, senior Tiana Ferrante, former president of the College Republicans, and sophomore Amanda Hafler, the president of Young Americans for Liberty.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Monica Smith mediated the panel. The panel answered four prepared questions before allowing time for audience questions.
The first topic covered by the panel was about which constitutional issue will be the most important for the future president of the United States. All responses of the panel indicated that the Supreme Court was a primary concern.
The panel discussed how there currently is a vacant seat within the Supreme Court due to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The Supreme Court has an even amount of Democrat and Republican Justices at this time.
Kopko said during the discussion that this new Justice will “change the ideological makeup of the court.”
Beginning in 2013, a new law was enacted requiring voters to show photo identification in order to vote to eliminate voter fraud and make sure the election regains its integrity. The panel was split over whether this law is effective.
According to Kopko, in order for this law to be effective, there must be ways for the voters without a photo identification to get one for free, but this process will help prevent voter fraud. Ferrante said that this process is effective in preventing voter fraud and also essential because no one “wants to vote with dead people.”
Shah brought to the audience’s attention that voter fraud is not as big of a concern as people make it seem; according to the information she presented, only 31 voter fraud cases occurred between 2000 and 2010. Hafler stated in the discussion that some political parties can use the lack of an identification “as a scapegoat to discourage minorities from voting for their party preference,” which Shah and Ida agreed with the information.
The popular topic of gun control was also brought up in the discussion panel. The majority of the panel agreed that the right to bear arms was a Constitutional right, but there also must be some form of background checks.
In the discussion, Ida stated that it is “easy to say criminals are getting guns illegally, but they’re not.” Besides background checks, education about weapons before they are purchased was also viewed as important by many of the panel members.
Another controversial topic was that of political correctness and its relation to the freedom of speech. Political correctness has only recently started conversation.
Hafler said political correctness does not limit the freedom of speech because it is a personal choice to be politically correct when one speaks, not a requirement of law.
Ferrante believes, “political correctness is the enemy of tolerance,” and things cannot just be labeled politically incorrect because we do not agree with them.
In the discussion, Ida said society has norms in place for a reason, and it is “ridiculous to play the free speech card as an excuse for being rude.”
After the four prepared questions were answered, the audience had time to ask their own. These questions covered a wide variety of topics such as the electoral college, the media, the panelists’ views on the upcoming elections and political activism in the community.
At the end of the discussion, the panelists urged those in the audience to vote, not just in the upcoming presidential election, but also in all future elections.
Hafler feels the event was important because even though the Constitution is “an old document, it is never an old topic because government is always changing based on the perception of the public and the ever-changing needs of the American people.”
According to Hafler, hearing the differing opinions presented during the discussion helps educate others. Junior Kyle Schaeffer, believes these kinds of events are important “because it shows how anyone can have a political discussion and still be civil.”
If you are interested in attending other events like this, there will be many opportunities throughout the semester. These events include debate parties, a voter registration drive and an absentee ballot workshop. Be on the lookout for more information about these upcoming events.