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Panel observes Constitution Day

Sarah Mayer | Thursday, September 18, 2008

For 2001 Notre Dame graduate Peter Gehred, his job as a field representative for Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) means the United States Constitution plays a daily role in his life.

“We live in a republic,” Gehred said. “The authority is by the people. That is why I have a job; that is why my boss has a job.”

Gehred spoke Wednesday on a panel in Haggar Parlor at Saint Mary’s College to celebrate the 221st anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

He stressed the importance of having a democracy instead of divine right.  

“We live in a land of unimaginable wealth, but our power flows from the bottom up,” he said.

Gehred reminded the audience that much of the brilliance of the Constitution came from English philosopher John Locke and French political thinker Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu.

“One of the geniuses of America is that we steal from everyone else,” Gehred joked.

But that borrowing, he said, has produced “the best government we could possibly have.”

Michael Kramer, a professor in Saint Mary’s Communication Studies, Dance and Theatre department emceed the panel session. He reminded the audience that Constitution Day is a time for Americans to remember to continue the legacy of the Founding Fathers and develop habits of citizenship in a new generation of Americans.

Former St. Joseph County deputy prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney Brooks Grainger described the importance of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

“If you think person X committed a crime, you have to prove it,” Grainger said.

But one of the problems with the United States government, he said, is that there are too many laws and regulations.

“We have over 10,000 laws but there are so many regulations under those laws that there is no way to tell how many crimes actually exist,” he said.

Saint Mary’s political science professor Amy Cavender spoke about the primacy of the freedom of religion in the Constitution.

“Religion is listed first in line. The national government cannot restrict religion,” she said.

Cavender described court cases where the Supreme Court interpreted what the Constitutional framers meant by freedom of religion.

“The government can have some influence on religion, but it has to be in a non-discriminatory way,” she said.