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The Journal Gazette

  • Seifert

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:00 am

Constitution challenge

Brush up on founding document

Martin E. Seifert

If you go

Constitution 101

Classes will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 18, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 at the library's downtown branch. The cost is $25 and includes a copy of the high school textbook to keep. Registration is available at www.allencountybar.org/allen-county-bar-foundation/ or by calling (260) 423-2359.

Martin E. Seifert, an attorney and certified civil mediator with Haller & Colvin, is president of the Allen County Bar Foundation.

We the People

It is a simple expression, really, but one that is fundamental to our country. As the beginning of the preamble to our Constitution, it calls us all, as citizens of our democracy, to be active participants in our community, both local and national. As we all wrestle with the issues facing our country, it is more urgent than ever that we all understand the core principles found in our Constitution.

To further this aim, the Allen County Bar Foundation has long been a proud supporter of the We the People: The Citizen and Constitution, an inspiring program for local students in elementary, middle and high school in northeast Indiana and throughout the country. Through We The People, students develop a deep understanding of the material and the ability to think critically. Allen County attorneys volunteer their time to work with students and their teachers to prepare for or judge regional, state and national competitions modeled after congressional hearings.

In We the People classes, students learn about the history of our Constitution – including the amendments, core principles of democracy, foundations of the American political system and how to apply what they have learned to their lives. Students routinely provide feedback about how meaningful the class was and how they intend to be engaged members of their community as a result of We the People.

Contrast that with how most adults think about the Constitution. They may vaguely remember concepts from their high school government class or some sort of American history course that touched on the intent of the Founders or the conflicts of the Civil War. That leaves many underprepared to understand the structure of our government and the relationship between the legislative, executive and judicial branches, or how it applies to current issues such as immigration, police search and seizure, or freedom of speech.

Americans are deeply divided on issues like the balance of power between the state and federal governments, the Supreme Court's authority, the influence of political parties, the protections given by the Bill of Rights and so much more. We often find ourselves in a media echo chamber where our personal views are affirmed with or without regard to facts. Incivility and extreme partisanship have worsened as citizens wall themselves off from those of differing opinions, receiving their news from limited sources and only engaging in discussion with those who already share their views. Knowledge of the Constitution provides a common base of knowledge and a shared language for speaking about American democracy.

As a result, the Allen County Bar Foundation thought there should be a way to introduce adults to the measured, informed approach of the We the People program. The Constitution 101 course starting later this month addresses these issues. The Bar Foundation, in cooperation with IPFW's Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, the League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne, the Indiana Bar Foundation and the Allen County Public Library, is offering the high school curriculum, albeit condensed, in a three-session course. 

Additionally, we are excited that Robert Leming, the national director of the We the People program through the National Center for Civic Education, will teach the course. A teacher at heart and an Indiana University alumnus, he has taught a similar program in Fishers and Bloomington.

The Allen County Bar Foundation believes in fostering innovative legal education, promoting civic engagement and addressing the county's law-related challenges. The We the People program and the Constitution 101 course both do just that. We want not only lawyers but students and the general public to have a working understanding of this foundational document that guides our ability to worship as we choose, limits police searches, authorizes the state's authority to enact laws in the interests of its residents and protects against discrimination.

If you have been looking for a way to learn more about the Constitution in a nonpartisan, unbiased way, we look forward to seeing you Sept. 18 in Constitution 101.