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Monday, March 7, 2011
A Message from the Director of the Peter Jennings Project to all of this year’s fellows:
In preparation for your follow-on, I would like to emphasize some of the points that Vic Walczak made in his remarks to the group at yesterday’s concluding lunch: the Constitution is out there everywhere, if you just take the time to look.
One general piece of advice: give a call to the local law school and take a professor out to lunch. Do not wait for there to be an article where you need the professor for a quote or as a source. Work proactively: find out what issues he or she sees as central to the constitutional dialogue in your community,
Now, some territory to consider:
1) The basic rule of thumb is to always ask, is the government involved here? The Constitution is fundamentally a document that limits government power. If there is no government action present, then there is no constitutional issue. Government, however, is a broad term. A public school teacher is “the government” as much as a policeman is the government. If the acting authority is paid with tax money, it is a government action that he or she is undertaking.
2) Technology – issues involving privacy of home computers (particularly for students), cell phones, and harmful postings (remember the example he gave of the teacher whose picture at a rowdy party was posted by someone else, yet led to her firing).
3) First Amendment issue – speech includes all forms of “expression,” not only the literal act of speaking. Religion occupies a tow-way street with the First Amendment: there can be no forced religious practice but there must also be space for free exercise.
4) Fourth amendment search and seizure issues involve information -- medical records, library records, cell phone contents (including pictures) and computer contents – as well as bodily integrity, which includes, of course, abortion but also DNA, and body-imaging.
5) Equal protection: LGBT and Immigrants are hot issues but discrimination of African-Americans and gender discrimination are still widespread.
6) Due process: Difficult concept - government taking something important away or denying something important to criminal procedure.
Examine these issues in your local community to search for stories that will include constitutional content.
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