How to uphold the US Constitution, according to Thomas B. Griffith

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Griffith graduated from BYU in 1978. He then studied law at the University of Virginia School of Law. (Huntonak.com)

BYU graduate, lawyer and jurist Thomas B. Griffith visited BYU for the Durham lecture series on Feb. 15 and encouraged those in attendance to defend the Constitution by building trust in democracy.

Attendees filled the seats in the Kimball Tower auditorium, while some gathered along the back wall and shifted to make room for latecomers.

Student’s listen to Griffith’s lecture. Griffith’s speaking style had students both taking notes and laughing out loud. (Eleanor Lambert)

Griffith gave his lecture about creating more trust in the American democratic system and reducing political polarity.

He explained that what he called “politics properly understood” is characterized by a “God-given passion for justice.”

Having a passion for justice should be our primary goal in civic involvement, Griffith said. As Christians, “the highest form of spirituality is most powerfully expressed when we work to make the effect of Christ’s Atonement radiate beyond ourselves, beyond our families to create communities,” he said.

Currently, America is facing “affective polarization,” Griffith said. This term describes when individuals’ feelings toward the opposing political party become increasingly negative.

“Contempt has replaced disagreement,” Griffith said. “(It’s) a cancer on the body politic.”

Listening to understand and avoiding social media echo chambers is essential to “moderate and unify” our charge as Latter-day Saints and stewards of the country, Griffith said. 

“Honestly, the biggest takeaway I had, and this can be looked at from a religious perspective or not, was just that it all comes down to communication skills and listening skills,” Rebecca Batty, a BYU senior studying political science and legal studies, said.

The U.S. founding fathers used feelings of goodwill and friendship, deference and compromise to create the U.S. Constitution, a document Americans revere and respect.

If we are to fight against the toxic effects of political polarization, Griffith said, and uphold the legacy of the Constitution, we need to build bonds of trust between Americans, not get stuck on individual rights protected by the Constitution.

“If you think supporting and defending the Constitution is primarily about guns, you’re not thinking big enough,” Griffith said. “You’re seeing some trees, I want to paint you a picture of the forest.”

Laura Bond, a BYU freshman studying Spanish, said what struck her was Griffith’s positive outlook on the political system in the U.S., despite declining trust in it.

“He kind of restored that faith for me, that there are good people that are there that are trying to do the best that they can,” Bond said. 

To get involved in this work, Griffith suggested reading news from multiple sources, pushing back against doubt in our election system and trying to focus on building bridges of understanding.

“I liked that he said that the expression of our faith as members of the Church is to be peacemakers,” Bond said. “In these times of polarization, that should come before our politics.” 

Griffith was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President George W. Bush in June 2005.

He retired in 2020 and is currently a fellow at BYU’s Wheatley Institute, a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, a member of the board of directors of Interfaith America and special counsel at the law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth.

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