Friday, July 8, 2011

Debate Day!

I'll be in California 10 days from now. Sitting in my dorm at Columbia, listening to my suite-mates laughing as six of them try to cram onto a two-person sofa so they can all watch the Harry Potter marathon, that seems really hard to believe. How can I leave? Chances are, frankly, that I'll never see any of them again. I've made some incredible friends here, inside and outside me suite, and I don't want to loose them. Such is life, I suppose. On to happier subjects.

Class today was a whole lot of fun. In the morning, we looked at the establishment and free exercise clause in the First Amendment concerning religion, and trying to piece together exactly what that means. Specifically, today we looked at cases concerning the freedom of religion in public schools, and studying the three different ways of interpreting the two clauses: strict separation, meaning that the government cannot in any way endorse or harm a religion in any way; strict neutrality, meaning that the government must be neutral and fair when it comes to religion; and accommodationism, which accepts that religion is a part of life for certain people and tries hard to accommodate any and all religious views.

After lunch but before class started back up, I met with the other members of my team for the debate. I think I described a bit about this in my last blog, but in case I didn't, yesterday everyone was given a mock Supreme Court case (but with real laws) and given a side to defend and teammates to work with. In my case, I was arguing with three of my classmates that a federal law preventing the transport of “obscene” materials (in this case, pornography) was unconstitutional based on the First Amendment protecting speech. The funny thing was that, in the hours of morning lecture before we received our specific cases, we had gone over about a dozen cases that ruled that obscenity was not protected as free speech, which basically meant that our argument had to be good enough to overturn almost two centuries worth of precedents.

I had been in charge of the closing argument, which formed in bits and pieces as more research came in and teammates came up with various tactics and arguments we could try to persuade our three “judges” (meaning our teachers) to rule in our favor. In a way, the paper I held in my hand when I came into class this afternoon was still a rough draft: a lot of what I would be saying in closing would rely on the arguments of the other side. Because of this, I was frantically taking notes down during the opposition's opening argument and essentially re-writing my closing while my teammates asked and answered questions to try and further drive our point home (for those who care, we argued that a) the First Amendment makes no exceptions for obscene speech, despite prior jurisprudence, and b) that the only reason to declare any type of speech as unprotected is because it is in some way harmful or dangerous, which studies about pornography show that it is not harmful and therefore cannot be limited even by relying on precedents). The other side brought up a tactic I had never even considered, using philosophical arguments on the reasoning behind free speech to prove that some speech needs to be limited, so I rustled through my notes and came up with a counter-argument based on the same line of thinking in few minutes. The ruling ended up being two to one in favor of our side, which was incredibly surprising, as our mentality from the outset had not been “How can we win?” but rather “How can we lose less terribly than we really should?” Perhaps we had underestimated ourselves rather a lot, but the ruling in our favor was the only real upset in the class: the two other cases being debated were resolved in much the fashion everyone who knew the facts of the case thought they would be.

I've spent this entire evening doing even more research for my paper, even getting a few body paragraphs jotted down in my computer before my ever-helpful suite-mates coerced me downstairs for a game or two of pool before dinner. I plan on devoting the entirety of tomorrow to writing the paper itself and shoving the drafts under absolutely anyone's nose in the hopes that maybe they'll read it and help me edit it. But, if that's really how I plan to spend my Saturday, I will need my sleep!

No comments:

Post a Comment