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OU celebrates Constitution Day with human rights expert

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With a crowd so oversized that the event was moved outdoors, Ohio University celebrated Constitution Day with a lecture from Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati Law School and editor-in-chief of Human Rights Quarterly.

Lockwood, speaking Tuesday afternoon at the Scripps Amphitheatre after a standing room-only audience had been established in Scripps’ Anderson Auditorium, addressed the milestones and key contributors to human rights development with the Constitution as framework while stressing the importance of moving forward.

Tuesday marked 226 years after the Constitution of the United States was adopted at the Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia. Lockwood, a heavy authority on human rights, emphasized that the conventions held in May of 1787 to develop the Constitution marked the beginning of any real discussion of human rights in America.

“At the time of those meetings, over three-fourths of the people of the world were held in bondage of some kind, whether in slavery, serfdom or another,” Lockwood said.

He noted that even centuries later, with completely different circumstances in a vastly different world, the U.S. Constitution still stands.

“The framers would be turning over in their graves right now,” Lockwood said. “They’d never have thought that their constitution would still be operating…in the industrialized world power that we are today.”

It is exactly this truth, Lockwood explained, that makes discussions about the Constitution with all ages so important.

“Americans have great reverence for the Constitution, although few have ever read it,” he said.

Many wonder about the fact that the Constitution remains the supreme law of the land in the United States when the pretenses under which it was written have all but been lost or changed years later.

Lockwood spoke on the Supreme Court of the United States, revealing that its existence is what keeps the Constitution alive.

“In other parts of the world, they fight in the streets over their issues,” he said. “In America, we fight in the courts.”

The Supreme Court, Lockwood explained, has given the national government the power to amend the Constitution and interpret as they wish in order to avoid having to throw out the entire document completely.

James Madison, often considered the father of the Constitution, never intended this practice to come about. Lockwood joked that if Madison had had it his way, “we probably wouldn’t be sitting here discussing this at all.”

Turning again to the issue of human rights advancement, Lockwood emphasized Eleanor Roosevelt, the author of the Declaration of Human Rights. Together with her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, she established that if someone’s basic human needs were not met, then the rest of their rights paled in comparison.

Lockwood by no means said that the human rights issue was solved by the Roosevelt administration, citing evidence that the issue still has a ways to go.

“Even WWII, a war for human rights, was fought with segregated troops,” he said. “When black troops came home, they weren’t greeted as heroes. Instead, there were numerous, hideous incidents of lynching.”

Although there is still much need for improvement, Lockwood explained that there is no completely correct way to find a voice for the United States to speak for human rights.

Haley Duschinski, an associate professor of anthropology and the director of the Center for Law, Justice and Culture who coordinated the event, also linked the Constitution to the basic framework for human rights.

“Early on, it helped to shape many of the norms that established the foundations of international human rights instruments, especially in the arenas of political and civil rights. But this influence has declined more recently, as the U.S. has minimized its own obligations under international law, and has exhibited a decidedly ambivalent attitude towards the efforts of international institutions to clarify and apply human rights law throughout the world,” she said in a press release.

Duschinski stressed that the Constitution is still a very applicable document when discussing even the most recent issues concerning human rights today.

“…Issues such as capital punishment, same-sex marriage, racial profiling, immigrant rights, and reproductive rights—can and are being considered, not only through the framework of U.S. constitutional law, but also through the lens of international human rights,” she said.

Constitution Day, although a highly appreciated part of U.S. history, political science and human rights discussions, is a yearly observance in which the federal government requires all publicly-funded educational institutions to provide educational material on that day in order to continue to receive funding.

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