By request of the convener of Interfaith Initiative Centre County, I helped staff the “Freedom of Religion” exhibit on Sept. 17 as part of the First Amendment display at the Constitution 230 Celebration at Grange Park in Centre Hall. As an “outsider” from Turkey, I want to share my observations.
Before talking about this specific event, I need to share some of my observations about American public life. You may remember George Clooney being arrested and handcuffed during a protest at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington in 2012. I watched the video that showed this. I was so surprised that he was obedient and complaisant toward police. Clooney didn’t blame anyone. He knew that he broke the law and accepted the consequence. I don’t know how it looks for an American citizen but for me it was so interesting. I wondered why he didn’t resist the police, or blame them either, like a tiny hero who fights against giants! The press also didn’t portray Clooney as a victim. The arrest was considered normal. In my perspective, this is not very normal. It should be normal, but for me, this is normal only in ideal circumstances…
Another thing I find interesting is that Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit against the so-called “Muslim ban” executive order, given by perhaps the most powerful man in the world, the U.S. president. A state attorney general could cancel this order. This is quite surprising to me. Even more surprising, Swanson could still practice her profession after filing a lawsuit against the president. Let’s think about this a little. If such a case against a president were filed in Russia, China or Turkey, Swanson would probably be arrested, her law school diploma would be canceled by the Supreme Court and she couldn’t practice law anymore. She could barely breathe within the border of that country. Maybe for an American citizen, to be able to file a lawsuit against the president is not a big deal, but for me, as an outsider, it is a big deal.
I think about why the U.S. has such a culture of freedom while some countries do not. I don’t think this is an easy question to answer, even for an expert in U.S. history. We may have possible answers, but it is not easy to explain the actual cause-effect relationship. Some may think that in the U.S. there are three co-equal branches of the government. My answer is that many countries have it – in theory. They have great, well prepared constitutions, too.
This is not what makes the United States different. I am trying to put pieces of a puzzle together to understand the difference, and Constitution Day is a big piece of the puzzle for me. A great crowd attended the Constitution event. People prepared posters and games for explaining amendments and articles of the constitutions. I had a chance to have intellectually challenging conversations with visitors.
Apart from the content quality of the event, having a Constitution Day event is quite interesting in itself. This shows there is another level of emphasis on laws in the U.S. The event increases public awareness about respect for laws and importance of the Constitution. Therefore, having a Constitution Day is a great value for a country.
Enes Gokce, 29, is a Penn State doctoral student from Turkey and a participant in Interfaith Initiative Centre County.