Women voters to host constitution lectures


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Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell asked in a fall 2010 debate where separation of church and state was in the U.S. Constitution.

The Republican faced criticism for the comment, but local resident Dawn Suter admits she also wasn't sure.

"I wonder how many citizens are well-informed enough to know that," Suter said. "That alerted me to be more well-informed."

As a part of efforts to expand the public's knowledge about the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court, Suter, along with the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, will host a series of monthly lectures beginning tonight and running through May. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. today in the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

The lecturers will speak about specific aspects of the Constitution, relating them to current issues.

"We hope to stimulate conversation about the Constitution and the ideas that are being put forth and the interpretations," said Rebecca Reiter, an event organizer. "We hope to re-engage the citizens in the Constitution. And we hope to just bring more information to the public about this important document that's been governing us from the beginning of the United States."

O'Donnell's comment sparked Suter, a co-head of the series, to come up with a way to inform herself and others she knew.

"I certainly don't know enough about the Constitution" she said. "My goal with this is educating myself about the document, so I could talk intelligently about it around issues that we're struggling with as a society today."

The first lecture will be given by UI law Professor Todd Pettys, who will discuss the myths surrounding the Constitution. He will address the widely held beliefs about the Constitution and the way Supreme Court judges go about interpreting it.

"What I want them to get out of it is a strong sense of the role that ordinary citizens play in shaping what the Constitution is ultimately said to mean," Pettys said.

In an effort to raise discussion throughout the lecture, he plans to raise provocative points in his speech.

"I'm hoping and I anticipate that my comments will prod people to think in new ways about some very central parts of our political life," he said. "I'm trying to say things, maybe put things in a way they've never been put before, and I hope that provokes a response."

Preparations began in March, and since then, a team of organizers, speakers, and sponsors collaborated to create the lecture series, Reiter said.

"I would guess hundreds of hours have been put into this," she said.

Funding for the program will come from the League of Women Voters local chapter's educational fund, which is raised through members themselves and then spent on education efforts. The entire series is projected to cost no more than $2,100.

Reiter said the series is an example of the general goals of the League of Women Voters.

"This is what the league does," she said. "Our purpose is to educate the people and citizens about government and public policy."

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