“We have but one rule - that every student must be a gentleman.”
— Robert E. Lee
Constitution Day Controversy

Constitution Day Controversy

By Grayson Pearce ‘22

Note: the original version of this article was originally published in the Ring-tum Phi. Please read the original article here. Constitution Day, also known as Citizenship Day, is a celebration of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution -- the longest operating, written constitution -- as well as a celebration of those who have become naturalized citizens of the country. Thus, Constitution Day must be a patriotic, uncontroversial celebration, right? Wrong. It’s never that easy in today’s climate of “politically correct McCarthyism,” to reiterate a phrase first coined by Michael Anton. W&L’s celebration of Constitution Day included a lecture from Anton, a former Trump administration National Security Council staffer and speech writer for George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani. His appearance was controversial because of his conservative views, of course. These views include his belief that Islam is “a militant faith,” that diversity is a “weakness” of the United States because it leads to “tension and disunion” and that the 14th Amendment was not intended to guarantee birthright citizenship. Disagreement with Anton’s views prompted a W&L philosophy professor, Melina Bell, who also co-directs the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, to organize an alternative event at the exact same time for students wanting to celebrate Constitution Day without the oppression of the right looming down upon fragile, insulated students blind to differing opinions and points of view. There was no need for the organization of this event whatsoever, and there was no need to beat the drum of liberal animosity on our campus simply because a conservative came to speak about his originalist view of our great Constitution. It is necessary to understand that Michael Anton came to our campus in the context of Constitution Day -- a day intended to recognize our Constitution. His views of our Constitution are very much mainstream and undeserving of the attempted silencing provided by Professor Bell and other leftists on campus. During his lecture, Anton described how he has tried to determine the meaning of the Constitution: by trying to find what is, in his words, “underneath and behind it.” He generally defined the Constitution as “a bulwark against tyranny.” Specifically, Anton described the three main principles of the Constitution: it establishes representative government, limited government and the separation of powers. His case for representative government is that it “blurs the distinction between the rulers and the ruled,” making them interchangeable and making government a product of all. Since Americans surely do not want to be ruled by a tyrant, the Constitution also ensures a limited government by enumerating the powers of each branch of government. And by separating the three branches, Anton claims it leads to a division of labor and a specialization that makes each of the branches more effective. Nothing about these views is contentious or controversial, and Anton’s lecture did not necessitate a professor’s attempt to shield students from his views. In fact, this attempt to shelter students is much more dangerous to our institution than anything Michael Anton could have said about the U.S. Constitution or in general. Nonetheless, protecting students from a conservative voice is a top priority for leftists on W&L’s campus and college campuses across the United States. This problem is explained more effectively by a 2015 Pew Research Center poll that found that 40 percent of millennials in America believe “the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups.” This is not to say that conservatives often say offensive statements about minorities, but it is to say that millennials, a left-leaning age group in America, do not think the 1st Amendment applies to speech that might hurt someone. Thus, it is a dangerous time in America to speak your mind, especially for conservatives during this time of “politically correct McCarthyism,” who are attempting to learn in colleges and universities that have grown to become training grounds for the militant left. The irony in all of this is, of course, that Michael Anton came to share his thoughts on our Constitution, which includes the 1st Amendment that guarantees Americans’ right to freedom of speech, but leftists on our campus, like Professor Bell, wanted Anton deprived of this freedom and silenced on the day meant to celebrate and recognize the Constitution to ensure he did not hurt the feelings of students who might disagree with his mainstream interpretation of the Constitution. The left’s assault on the freedom of speech, especially conservatives’ freedom of speech is not only bad for our country, but it hurts students. Protecting students from ideas that challenge their own does those students an immense disservice, and it is a direct contradiction of what our institution of higher education strives to achieve. Walking into a university without expecting your views to be questioned or challenged is like diving into a pool without expecting to get wet. Insulating students from views that challenge their own also directly contradicts W&L’s Statement of Commitment to Diversity, perfectly illustrating the hypocrisy of the left’s assault on free speech by utilizing their own beloved diversity. The first sentence of that statement reads, “Washington and Lee affirms that diverse perspectives and backgrounds enhance our community.” Thus, a “diverse [perspective],” no matter how conservative, “[enhances] our community,” and a different perspective, no matter how extreme or controversial, will always enhance students’ minds if not by informing them of what to believe, then by informing them of what not to believe. Islam may or may not be “a militant faith,” but liberalism has indubitably become a militant ideology, especially on college campuses.

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Why I Came to Washington and Lee

W&L's Confederate History

W&L's Confederate History