Utah Supreme Court justice to give BYU’s Constitution Day lecture

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A divine document, a “heavenly banner” that was the result of months of intensive effort by inspired men, will be honored by BYU next week.

On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. BYU will hold its annual Constitution Day lecture to recognize the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. Admission is free and the public is invited. This year, Chief Justice Christine Durham of the Utah Supreme Court will speak on “American Constitutional Federalism: 51 Constitutions in Action,” in the Gordon B. Hinckley Center Assembly Hall. A public reception will follow.

According to a news release, Durham has served on the Utah Supreme Court since 1982 and became chief justice in April 2002. She received her Bachelor of Arts with honors from Wellesley College and her Juris Doctorate from Duke University.

Professor Jeremy Pope of the Political Science Department recognizes the significance in Durham’s visit.

“We’re very honored to have Justice Durham speak,” Pope said. “She stands at the head of one of Utah’s branches of government and helps put the Constitution into practice.  Hearing her speak is an invaluable opportunity to better understand the mind of one of our public servants.”

The United States Constitution is the oldest constitution in use in the world today. Therefore, America is recognized as a country focused on its heritage.

“We stand on the shoulders of people who came before,” Pope said. “We owe a great debt to the generation that sacrificed much to institute their best vision of a good government.  The American system is not perfect, but it represents the best wisdom of the most talented political generation in our history. It’s worth taking seriously.”

The need to remember and understand the Constitution is something BYU has placed a great emphasis on for many years. One such evidence of this belief is in the well-recognized and required course, American Heritage 100. According to the American Heritage website, more than 25 years ago BYU’s Board of Trustees created the course because “university students needed a better understanding of the origins of the Constitution and its role in American life.”

Brett Leavitt, 22, from Henderson, Nev., is currently an American Heritage TA and agrees it is important for students to have a good grasp on early American history and our government system.

“An understanding of the Constitution helps us understand why we believe the things we believe,” Leavitt said. “It helps us understand our rights and how those rights were achieved. As we come to know our rights as citizens of the United States we can begin to understand truly why and how to actively participate in our community.”

Kendel Christensen, a BYU alumnus in sociology, from Herriman, agrees about being politically informed and involved.

“I think everyone should take the time to get involved in any activity related to heightening awareness and understanding of the Constitutional issues,” Christensen said. “Our official doctrinal position is that the Constitution is an inspired document. If that is true, which I believe it is, then I think every one of us should be aware of the threats to its principles and equipped to defend them.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does believe the Constitution was written by inspired men. A previous President of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson, spoke of the Constitution as divine.

“I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document,” President Benson said. “To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed his stamp of approval upon it. I testify that the God of heaven sent some of his choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and he has now sent other choice spirits to help preserve it.”

Charles Pinckney, present during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, said, “When the great work was done and published, I was struck with amazement. Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war … could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole.”

Next week universities across America will take time to celebrate the signing of a document that William Gladstone, a British liberal statesman in the 18th century, described as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”

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