Constitution Day Panel Discusses 10 Commandments Case

Joseph Stewart, a nationally recognized professor of political science, anchored a panel discussion Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Radford University on the First Amendment right to freedom of religion as it relates to the Giles County 10 Commandments lawsuit.

The discussion provided insight into a recently settled lawsuit filed in Giles County alleging that a framed copy of the 10 Commandments displayed at Narrows High School violated the First Amendment's establishment clause.

"Were the commandments, as the school board’s attorneys argued, displayed to offer students a history lesson on the documents and ideas that spurred a revolution and laid the foundation to America’s political, social, educational and moral structures?" asked Carter Turner, an RU associate professor of religious studies, in opening the session. "Or were the commandments displayed, as the plaintiff’s attorneys contended, as an act of religion itself—an overture to the Judeo-Christian God and thus a violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause?"

Constitution Day Panel on First Amendment rights to freedom of religion

Guest Professor Joe Stewart (left) listens as RU Associate Professor Carter Turner fields a question during Tuesday's Constitution Day Panel on First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. Also on the panel are RU SGA President Emily Redd and John N. Dalton Jr., president of the Montgomery-Radford Bar Association.

The lawsuit was settled by allowing Giles County's public schools to display a page from a textbook depicting the 10 commandments and explaining their place in history.

Stewart, a professor of political science at Clemson University, moderated the event, which opened with brief comments about the case from panelists Turner, RU SGA President Emily Redd and John N. Dalton Jr., a practicing attorney and president of the Montgomery-Radford Bar Association. The event concluded with more than an hour of questions and answers.

"We selected the 10 Commandments lawsuit because the case originated in Giles County, which is just a few miles from Radford," said Katherine Hawkins, dean of Radford University's College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences, one of the event's sponsors. "There are a number of RU students, staff and faculty who live in Giles County, which brings this year's Constitutional question very close to home."

Radford University's McConnell Library, Political Science Club and Philosophy and Religious Studies Club also sponsored the panel discussion.

Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. Tuesday's panel discussion was the second such annual event at RU.

Stewart, an expert on civil rights policies, has been published in a variety of political science, education, public policy, public administration, public law and interdisciplinary journals. He is the co-author of the book "Public Policy: An Evolutionary Approach."