Part of what makes Hays a unique community is the influence of Fort Hays State University. The faculty and students arriving on campus from other parts of the country and world help provide a little cultural diversity to a relatively homogenous populace.
FHSU also imports culture generally unavailable in other cities of comparable size. The Encore Series presents professional troupes and companies in the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center that generally stay in metropolitan areas. The Sebelius Lecture Series hopes to accomplish something similar on the civic front.
If the inaugural event that featured Howard Dean and Rick Santorum was any indication, the series is off to a great start. Hundreds of attendees were treated to a robust exchange of opposing views on a variety of current events. Under the umbrella subject "Proper Role of Government in a Free Society," the two former presidential candidates from different elections offered starkly different takes on campaign finance, abortion rights, government shutdowns and health care. Agreement was found regarding FHSU's mission and America's exceptionalism, although the latter was for different reasons.
Santorum, who was the Sunflower State's preferred candidate during the 2012 Republican presidential caucus, expressed a perspective that found favor with a majority of the audience, based on applause levels.
The former senator from Pennsylvania believes the U.S. Constitution is a ratification of the basic rights given Americans from God. For proof, he quotes the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." He says the Constitution is the "how" of America and the Declaration is the "why," pointing out that many countries have copied our Constitution but nobody has copied the Declaration.
Here's why, in our opinion: No other country has attempted to break free from the British Empire with the same list of grievances being suffered by American colonists. To copy that list would be as incongruent as taking the references to God as proof the Founding Fathers' intent was to create a religious nation.
The U.S. Constitution was the culmination of hundreds, if not thousands, of years of collective wisdom, success and failure. The writers understood placing too much power in one individual's hands historically led to tyranny, so three branches of government were given equal status. They knew the structure of both federal- and state-level governments had to be spelled out -- and bound by clear rules. America is a nation based on laws, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. There is no higher power governing the citizenry, which is why the document purposefully has no references to any divine entity.
There was such a phrase in the country's first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. "Great Governor of the World" was invoked once, but even that disappeared during the Federal Convention of 1787. Compromise, cooperative statesmanship and brilliant minds crafted the U.S. Constitution that stands to this very day.
Santorum's notion of what the framers meant to say is irrelevant. We pledge to uphold the Constitution -- no other document that preceded it. Santorum's God certainly works for his family, but not Dean's, which includes Jewish and Hindu members. America is even more diverse, with Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and many others as well. Unaffiliated, which includes atheists and agnostics, make up more than 16 percent of the nation. Santorum belongs to the Catholic Church, which can claim almost 24 percent of Americans but also possesses the greatest net loss as a result of affiliation changes.
Attempting to rely on the Bible, or any religion's primary text, will never work in this diverse nation. It didn't in 1787; it doesn't in 2013.
Rick Santorum, while well-intended, confuses moral conduct with constitutional law. He actually had no business attempting to debate the proper role of government in a free society. We hope future Sebelius Lecture Series speakers are better matched to the subject matter.
But as far as generating robust discussion, the debate was a hit.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry