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Dr. Finkelman on Constitution Day


By Tyler Hofmann-Reardon


On September 17th, Roanoke College had the honor of hosting Dr. Paul Finkelman, who gave a talk on the constitutionality of Constitution Day. Dr. Finkelman is a fellow in Laws and Humanities at Harvard School of Law and expert in constitutional history and law.

Dr. Finkelman started by leading audience members through the history of Constitution Day, and the challenges that could be made against the holiday’s constitutionality. He professed that some scholars and politicians believe this holiday is unconstitutional because it violates the 1st Amendment right to free speech. They claim that the government should not be allowed to provide or limit funding based on whether an institution recognized this holiday or not, because this constitutes forced speech and severely infringes on an individual’s rights. However, according to Dr. Finkleman and the Supreme Court of the United States, a school or similar institution is not offered the same rights afforded to an individual or a corporation because it does not exhibit the necessary characteristics. This is largely related to the cash flow associated with the institution and, as non-for-profits, most schools do not meet the qualifications. Further, the government is not compelling speech because, while the financial stipend provided is significant, it does not force speech. Colleges and universities can still chose to reject the celebration of the holiday and not receive the financial package and the government will then assume that they have planned enough to remain financially afloat without the government funding. Therefore, while it presents an interesting constitutional argument, it is clear from Dr. Finkleman’s lecture and the ruling of the Supreme Court that Constitution Day is, in fact, constitutional.

Unfortunately, Dr. Finkleman only spent about 30-45 minutes on his intended topic. He seemed to rush through his lecture in order to talk instead about the current presidential race and Donald Trump’s bid for the White House. For the next hour, he discussed many of Donald Trump’s gaffes during the most recent presidential debate. He focused largely on his proposed immigration policy, pointing out that Trump would lose a large percentage of his workforce if his own policies were enacted. He actually led the audience through a fairly interesting discussion on the constitutionality of birthright citizenship and pointed out some key digressions that exist in legal and political thought in the United States. He also livened the discussion up a bit with various jokes and comments concerning Trump, Trump’s hair, and the rest of the republican candidates. The evening was brought to a close by a set of discussions on topics raised by the audience including the citizenship status of a child born to an American citizen in international waters.

For those who didn’t get a chance to go this year, next year’s Constitution Day lecture will surely cover a highly interesting, and certainly constitutional, discussion about the great document that governs our nation.