Forum provides new perspectives on old issues

The United States is a nation still trying to find its identity, said U.S. Rep Artur Davis (D-Ala.) at the Jefferson State Community College constitutional forum Thursday.

“We are in the business right now of trying to decide just what kind of country we want to be,” he said. “We still argue today, in 2008, over what exactly the Constitution means.”

The forum was Jeff State’s yearly Constitution Day event. The forum was originally intended to be a presidential election debate between representatives of both political parties, but the Republican representative had to drop out because of the Republican National Convention.

Instead, Davis answered student questions about constitutional issues.

When asked about why the United States uses the electoral college instead of the popular vote to choose presidents, Davis explained that if presidents were elected by popular vote, it could result in smaller states being ignored.

“To get to 270 electoral votes, you have to have a combination of states, some big and some small,” he said. “So candidates go to those small states. If I was planning an election based on the popular vote, I’d send Obama to New York and California.”

Because candidates must win the electoral college, it forces them to focus on all states, not just the ones with the most population.

“I like the concept of small states being able to make a difference,” Davis said.

In response to a question about freedom of religion, Davis spoke about the founders’ desire to keep church and state separated.

“The first amendment says the government shall not establish a religion. It says there shall be free exercise of religion,” he said. “We have so many different religions today that the idea of having one state religion is unfathomable.”

Davis referenced Roy Moore, the former Alabama Chief Justice who unsuccessfully tried to have a monument of the Ten Commandments installed at the state judicial building.

He said if Moore had been successful, non-Christians couldn’t have counted on being treated fairly.

“We probably should be bothered by anything that suggests that nonbelievers will be treated differently,” Davis said.

Davis also discussed the second amendment, which gives the right to bear arms, and the fourth amendment, which deals with illegal search and seizure.

After the forum was over, forum organizer Zac Alexander said he was excited about the turnout, which had 150 people at the Shelby campus and 150 people at the Jefferson County campus watching a live video broadcast of the forum.

“We’ve had this event for four years, and we’ve had a variety of speakers,” Alexander said. “It’s always good to have a big turn out.”

Alexander said he enjoyed hearing Davis speak about freedom of religion and the history of the Constitution.

Sheldon Prinsloo, president of the Jeff State honor society, said he was impressed with how well Davis spoke.

“I thought he answered the questions very well,” Prinsloo said. “He spoke his mind and was very solid in what he was saying.”