By Rebecca Flannery
On the day dedicated to the U.S. Constitution, President and Chancellor Ken Starr chose to speak about religious freedom protected in the First Amendment.
The federal government requires universities receiving national funding to hold educational discussion about the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day. Hundreds of students and several faculty attended Wednesday’s discussion in Bennett Auditorium.
“The words to the First Amendment are quite simple, like the preamble’s words, they’re quite majestic, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’” Starr said. “As students of the text, we focus not only on the words but we also look at the structure. Those freedoms come structurally before freedom of speech or freedom of the press.”
Starr gave examples of times in history when freedom of religion was upheld and times when it was not. Court cases discussed included Burwell v. Hobby Lobby dealing with contraceptives and Sherbert v. Verner, where a worker was let go because of her inability to work on a religious day.
Starr also talked about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as it was integrated within each of the religion-based cases he mentioned.
“The RFRA is both a congregational and presidential representation of the text in the First Amendment,” Starr said. “And now we’re back to the Constitution.”
“Inciting RFRA into law, President Clinton said this: ‘A broad coalition of Americans came together to make this bill a reality. Which shows, I suppose that the power of God is such that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.’”
Dr. David Bridge, assistant professor of political science, said the fact that Starr decided to speak about religious freedom on Constitution Day displays the importance of the subject.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Bridge said. “It’s great that he used Constitution Day to educate about religion in the Constitution.”
Dallas senior Connor Mighell said he thought Starr’s contribution to Constitution Day was important because it reminded students of the document’s reliability.
“I thought President Starr gave a good summation of the Constitution and religious liberty,” Mighell said. “It was good of him to deliver expertise on Constitution Day and make us aware how relevant it is today.”
While Starr spent a majority of the time discussing the importance of this nation preserving the Constitution’s words, he also touched on topics outside of America’s borders.
“Tomorrow, our Scottish cousins are going to go to the polls to vote on whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom,” Starr said. “We will know pretty soon tomorrow afternoon whether over 300 years of union will be torn.”
He said the procedure of a simple majority vote in Scotland is unwise in a situation where a split decision is so close in the polls.
Thankfully, the U.S. constitution would require a super majority vote to undergo the same procedure of a state seceding, Starr said.