Happy Constitution Day!
Western has been celebrating Constitution Day in a number of ways this year. The focus seems to be on the First Amendment (ever seen a university celebrate the Second Amendment?). These include a talk by a local newspaper editor, a radio dialogue among some of our undergrads, and an essay contest.
And we’re not the only institution celebrating. The reason for this elevated interest is a little requirement that Senator Robert Byrd added to an appropriations bill last year requiring colleges that receive federal funds to have some sort of commemoration or celebration.
The prize for the most intellectually honest Constitution Day observance should probably go to Vanderbilt University, which is sponsoring a program in which the university’s law dean will argue that forcing colleges to honor Constitution Day is unconstitutional. Ever since Senator Byrd proposed the measure, college officials have been complaining about it, saying that Congress shouldn’t be adding educational requirements or telling colleges which holidays to celebrate.
I find it a little hard to get worked up like this, and while I’m no lawyer, I think it’s a stretch to say that the requirement is unconstitutional. This is hardly “forced speech.” In the first place, the rules for how to celebrate Constitution Day are pretty loose. More importantly, it’s tied to the receiving of federal funds. No college is forced to participate. All they have to do is cut those government pursestrings (hee hee). And don’t tell me that can’t be done.
Really. Don’t colleges and universities have to fill out some kind of paperwork for any federal monies they receive? Is that “forced speech?” I know I have a report to write based on some government grant money I’m getting this year. Same was true for every grant I oversaw when I was a program manager. All Principal Investigators were required to write a report (usually several).
To me, this is very much like the Solomon Amendment, that forces universities that receive federal funding to allow military recruiters on their campuses. Some institutions have been fighting it (with some success), but I’m wondering why they think the government isn’t allowed to attach any conditions to the money it provides.
One commenter to the Inside Higher Ed piece writes:
I generally like Byrd. But forced speech about free speech? Surely not! Maybe the Ninth Circuit can look it over…
Well, I’m no fan of Byrd myself, and I tire of his “defender of the constitution” routine, but I really don’t see this as a “forced speech” issue.