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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Constitution Day panel to focus on religion, the Constitution and public affairs

A panel of New Mexico State University government, history and journalism scholars will discuss religion, the Constitution and public affairs in honor of the signing of the U.S. Constitution 220 years ago.

The forum will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, in Gerald Thomas Hall, Room 194, the building's auditorium. The public is invited.

Nancy Baker, head of the government department, will begin the discussion by presenting a broad overview of case law in this area over the past 50 years. As she outlines the major legal tests developed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Baker will discuss the justices' sometimes contradictory rulings and will highlight the tension that can exist between the free exercise and establishment clauses.

Greg Butler, another government professor, will discuss the meaning of the First Amendment religion clauses according to the proposal debates in the first Congress. Butler says he intends to highlight the range of legitimate interpretive possibilities regarding federal interference in religious matters.

Jeff Brown, head of the history department, will give an overview of the colonial experiences with religious establishments and issues that helped lead to the First Amendment clause.

Another history professor, Jon Hunner, will discuss a recent case brought against Las Cruces in which the plaintiff said the use of three crosses on the city logo violates the First Amendment. Hunner also will explore the use of religious symbols in other New Mexico cities.

The sole journalism professor on the panel, Mary Lamonica, will discuss how the mass media cover religion, the establishment clause, the role of government in religion, and the role of religion in government. She specifically will discuss high profile religion cases and how the media framed their stories while covering those cases.

Sponsors of the Constitution Day panel are the NMSU departments of government and history and the Project 1776 Teacher Development Program. This event is part of NMSU's continuing outreach efforts to help educate and improve the lives of citizens of the community and state.