Thursday, July 5, 2012

The "Great" Debaters

This morning was the same as usual except for one detail--there was a fire drill this morning! Fortunately for me, when the fire alarm sounded I was also ready to leave my dorm room. Some other kids, on the other hand,  weren't so lucky. The amount of student's half asleep or half dressed was staggering, but they still had it better off than the four or five kids who were stuck in nothing but towels and shower caps! Luckily, the drill only lasted for about 10 minutes, so most of the students were still left with enough time to get ready for class. 

Jeffery was the one to teach the morning session. Today's lesson covered the freedom of religion as expressed in the first amendment's establishment clause and free exercise clause. One related topics we went over was the importance of the separation church and state. We learned that there are three methods that Congress may use to ensure this separation. The first is strict separation, which dictates complete neutrality to all religions and "secular" or non-religious subjects. The second method is strict neutrality, which forbids Congress from openly aiding or abetting a religion as well as displaying any positive or negative biases towards a form of faith. The third and final method is accommodationism, which states that if Congress can pass a law concerning religion if it aids all religions equally. 

Following the theme of today's lesson, the cases that we went over dealt with the constitutional issues surrounding the freedom of religion, such as the constitutionality of prayer within public schools. The cases that we reviewed Abingdon School v. Schempp, Murray b. Curott, and Lemon v. Kurtzman. 

The last case--which dealt with the legality of the State of Pennsylvania providing supplementary funding for private school--lead to a very important contribution to the judiciary system. This contribution, now known as the "Lemon Test", is legal measure that ensures that the government does not aid a religious establishment unless they pass the following three requirements :

  1. The institution must be working towards a secular purpose
  2. The principle and primary effect of the institution's actions must not lead to the aid or hindrance of a religion
  3. The government must partake in any form of "excessive entanglement"or needless bias
If an institution fails even one of the aforementioned criteria, then the government's intervention is deemed both illegal and unconstitutional. 

Almost the entirety of my lunch period was spent panicking. I had a total of two hours to eat, finalize my research paper topic, finish editing my debate speech, and study for my quiz. Needless to say, my lunch hour was abosoluelty nerve wrecking. I'm honestly not sure of how I was able to get all of my work done in time, but somehow I did it, and with very little time to spare. 

Aside from the quiz, the afternoon class was entirely dedicated to our debates. The judges for the debates included, of course, Jeffery, Luke, as well as a guest judge who served as a clerk in an Indian court house. The debates opened my team's case. Since burning the American flag is an act protected by the Constitution, my team decided to take a different approach and tired to prosecute the defendant for creating a potentially dangerous environment. Whilst taking the role of the Prosecution, my team repeatedly brought up the fact that the defendant was not arrested for burning the flag, but violating fire safety codes that forbid the public burning of any material without the explicit permission from the State. 

As the writer and orator for my side's closing speech, I was the last person to speak for either side, and as such I attempted to leave the biggest impact that I could. Despite, being a part of my school's Speech and Debate team, I'm not the best public speaker--in fact the main reason that I joined the team was to improve my skills! Despite my initial stammering I think that I fairly well in both speaking and defending my team's arguments. However, the judges didn't seem to agree. My team ended up losing 2-1 because we failed to clearly acknowledge the constitutional issue at hand. The judges, however, admitted that both sides did very well and that our debate was one of the best in years. 

When class was over, I met with Mrs. L and the others in order to meet with Mrs. Kristine Billmyer, the directer of the High School Program. To be honest, I was somewhat afraid of meeting Mrs. Billmyer--the idea of meeting such as an important woman was certainly intimidating. However, my fears were set aside when I actually met Mrs. Billmyer. She was both incredibly friendly and incredibly helpful in answering all of our questions. After taking a picture with Mrs. Billymyer, we said goodbye to the soon-to-be retired official and headed towards our next stop, Low Library.

While at Low Library we took the time to grab some informational brochures, and bask in the building's beautiful architecture. 

After our visit to the Library, we left the rest of the day to ourselves. Lenny and I initially made plans to go on a RA trip to see Moonside Kingdom, but for some reason we couldn't find the RA, so we opted to just stay and campus and talk about various movies instead. While it wasn't exactly what I expected, it was still a very nice conversation!

Although today was a bit busy, it was overall very nice day. Aside from the earlier panicking, I thoroughly enough my day today. A day such as this just makes me more anxious for the next. 

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