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University faculty and students commemorate freedoms on Bill of Rights Day

George Washington is among the favorite historical figures of CMU Associate Professor of History Sarah Swedberg, PhD, when it comes to United States history. As an expert in the field of study, she believes despite being a flawed individual, that Washington’s voluntary resignation of power is among the most important events in democratic history. The unlikely giving back of executive power is rare in culture and history, and is emblematic of other unlikely historical events including ratification of the U.S. Constitution and its first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights.

On December 15, CMU faculty and student leaders joined in unity under flagship of the CMU Civic Forum. The joint effort commemorated national Bill of Rights Day by conducting a recital of each of the historically critical first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“The movement toward a truly egalitarian society in the United States began by codifying the nation’s laws with the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,” said CMU President Tim Foster. “The original documents were important but not sufficient. The Bill of Rights went further to secure freedoms of all Americans and secure the shared belief that each person has intrinsic value in relation to the power of the state.”

The Bill of Rights commemoration included a reading of well known amendments that protect free speech, free expression and the right to bear arms. Beyond the first and second amendments, faculty and students also read lesser known, but equally essential rights that pertain to protection of individuals under domestic law and the appropriate balance of power between individuals and the U.S. military, domestic law enforcement agencies and equal protections under the law.

"Although the practical effect of the Bill of Rights didn’t initially benefit all Americans, the premise of the amendments set the stage for today’s conversations about social justice and social advocacy,” said CMU Coordinator of Inclusivity Ta’Lor Jackson. “Individual freedoms are a strong pillar of America’s national identity, and the Bill of Rights reflects this value and is part of what should inspire us all to continue working each day to ensure these freedoms are secured for every American."

The commemoration follows a recent resolution adopted unanimously by the CMU Board of Trustees — the Chicago Principles. The policy mirrors what is widely known as the academic gold standard for freedom of speech, expression and academic inquiry.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Kurt Haas, PhD, recited the first amendment and was involved in organizing the effort.

“As a faculty member from the humanities, I have long known that my career as a professor and as an academic is based on the presupposition that all people must have the ability to speak, write, research and express themselves in an unhindered way that allows knowledge to change and grow, and make life more meaningful for more people,” said Haas.

CMU Professor of Political Science Tim Casey, PhD, is a faculty member on the Turning the Corner on racism campus initiative. The group has been meeting during the last three months to work on issues around racial bias, inequality of opportunities and other issues affecting marginalized communities on campus. In addition to helping organize the reading and providing a post-reading synopsis of the event, he also reminded students that the Bill of Rights are essential for efforts like battling racism and all other civic endeavors in American life.

"Too often in society, we take for granted the rights and freedoms we have. We simply don't take the time to appreciate that these rights are fundamental to the quality of life all Americans enjoy, and that they don't just magically exist. They must be articulated, respected and defended for the greatest and least among us. That is why it is so important on this national Bill of Rights Day, that we not only remember the document that enumerated our fundamental rights as citizens, but that as citizens we commit to their protection every day for everyone."


Written by David Ludlam