The event, which celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, involved discussions and remarks from Brown, Helman and Hendrickson that highlighted their three unique perspectives. According to Iowa Wesleyan University Provost DeWayne Frazier, said that approximately 150 students and community members attended the event, a larger crowd than expected.
Frazier noted that he felt the event was important to put on because “in this day and age, I think that the more we get young people engaged and the importance of civic engagement and understand their own rights, then they’re going to be more informed citizens and … with how many challenges and fights over politics there is never a time, maybe in U.S. history, that it’s been more important that we have an educated electorate.”
In her opening remarks, Judge Brown, a Mt. Pleasant native who has been the Chief Judge of Iowa’s 8th Judicial District since 2012, noted that both a strength and weakness of the Constitution is that people often “take it for granted.”
“We citizens often shirk our obligations to learn civics and to fully appreciate what the Constitution does and gives to us … It is so effective in giving us a mechanism to operate our government that we don’t necessarily think about it or realize that it is an action every single day,” Brown noted.
Brown also said that the document “reflects the time in which it was written,” which means as a country, “we need to consider the provisions in context.”
“Everyday, questions come up that our Founding Fathers could never have envisioned or comprehended. Consequently, some of those constitutional provisions may seem vague or inappropriate or unnecessary. That means we have the courts to interpret the constitution,” Brown said.
Dave Helman, a Wesleyan alum who worked in correction facilities under the U.S. Department of Justice for 27 years, echoed Brown as he stressed the importance of civic duty and registering to vote. Helman spoke on his experience as a college student at the height of the Vietnam War and power younger people have now to cast their vote.
“The 26th amendment says that you have a duty of citizenship to prepare for that election. Your generation doesn’t have a Vietnam War but the seas are rising, the earth is warming. We have mass shootings, we have gun violence throughout the country. You have high college debt … these are all issues on your plate. You must learn to understand that you must pay attention to them and be alert,” Helman noted.
John Hendrickson, who taught at Wesleyan as a history professor for a number of years and helped to organize Constitution Day during his tenure at the university, also noted that the Constitution remains an important document in the everyday life of Americans and continue to affect large events like presidential elections. During a discussion about the electoral college, he noted that “we must keep in mind that the government that was created was a republic, not a democracy. Part of the [purpose of the] Electoral College … was to provide equality,” Hendrickson said.
The three panelists addressed questions about pressing current issues including the second amendment and gun violence experienced across the nation.
Hendrickson noted that the second amendment is important because it is “a fundamental right, the right of self-defense,” and argued that many of the gun laws already in the books may not have been able to prevent recent mass shootings. Hendrickson expressed that he felt more than anything else, mental health needed to be addressed in response to prevent further gun violence.
Judge Brown also commented on the question of gun violence noting that there is generally a “balancing act that the court must do in evaluating rights versus restrictions on those rights.”
“One of the compromises they made … was that people had to give up absolute freedom for the betterment of the whole good, so there has to be a balancing of how far the right to bear arms goes and whether the restrictions on it are reasonable and necessary for the entire of society,” she noted.
Fourth year student Desiree Reyes, a criminal justice major, said she has attended the event every single year since she began at Iowa Wesleyan.
“I just think it’s important to understand the history and with all the things happening and the second amendment, it’s just good to understand the Constitution.”