Events celebrate constitutional rights



By Becca Clemons

Patriotism showed its colors Friday on the north side of UK’s Main Building, where students, faculty and guest speakers aimed to give the Constitution justice.

It was a day full of banned book readings, mock political debates and voter registration — not to mention free lemonade and apple pie — all to celebrate the Constitution’s signing 223 years ago, on Sept. 17, 1787.

Eighth graders from Christ the King School and Young Democrats and Young Republicans from Tates Creek High School attended the Citizen Kentucky Forum, which UK journalism professor Buck Ryan moderated.

“This program is brought to you by the First Amendment,” Ryan said in the forum’s introduction.

Freshmen from Ryan’s “Citizen Kentucky: Journalism and Democracy” discovery seminar helped organize the event and participated in mock debates based on candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

Guest speakers included Al Cross, a political writer and director of the Institute on Rural Journalism and Community Issues, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson and UK’s College of Education Dean Mary John O’Hair.

Cross talked about the upcoming elections, including the U.S. Senate race between Jack Conway and Rand Paul.

He discussed the constitutional questions the Ground Zero Islamic community center raised, along with the threat Florida Pastor Terry Jones issued to burn the Quran. He said both issues involve the First Amendment.

Grayson followed, discussing his plans to get Kentucky students interested in legislature through a new group, the Kentucky Advocates for Civic Education.

“We have seen kids pass laws in Frankfort,” Grayson said, also noting that his favorite part of his job is getting to work with students of all ages.

O’Hair introduced the P-20 Civic Engagement Lab, encouraging civil engagement and asking students to identify, analyze and think about problems in their communities.

Nancye McCrary, a director of the lab, also addressed students, encouraging them to make changes for their society.

“Our democracy is being remade every day, and we need you to remake it,” she said. “We would like you to help engage people your age in civic education.”

Before and after the forum, UK’s Gaines Center for Humanities sponsored banned book readings to engage passing students.

Students and faculty read excerpts from a number of banned books, including Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (read in German).

The Gaines Center has traditionally done an outdoor reading for six or seven years, director Robert Rabel said.

In past years, the readings have lasted the span of an entire day, but the event partnered this year with Constitution Day activities to celebrate the importance of the First Amendment in people’s lives, Rabel said.

“I don’t think these books should be banned, because they make people stop and think,” chemistry freshman Vicki Herde said. “People need to think more.”

Ryan said the goal of Consitution Day was to teach citizens about the Constitution in creative ways.

“The true test is how much learning occurred today and how much will stick, because the two key questions I posed at the beginning were, ‘What is the bare minimum a citizen needs to know and know how to do?’ and ‘What is the best way to teach so that it sticks?’ ”