TTU’s Constitution Day links free speech issues with student political engagement

Event Details:

Constitution Day Speaker: 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 14, Derryberry Hall Auditorium, Danna Young on the role of political satire in a democracy.

Highlands Debate 2010: Gubernatorial candidates Bill Haslam and Mike McWherter face off, 7 p.m. See it live from Derryberry Hall Auditorium.

Tennessee Tech University's Constitution Day presentation on political satire's role in a democracy is particularly timely, says Lori Maxwell, professor of political science at TTU. (Go here to watch a video interview with Maxwell.)

"We may take for granted that free speech and political satire are fraught with Constitutional ramifications," Maxwell said.

Constitution Day at TTU is Sept. 14. The day's activities include a nonpartisan gubernatorial debate and a discussion of the role of political satire in democracies. The Nolan Fowler Constitution Day Celebration, now in its sixth year, commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

The Constitution Day speaker, Danna Young, assistant professor of communications at the University of Delaware, specializes in the study of media, politics and public opinion. She'll discuss the impact of popular programs like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "The Colbert Report" and political satire websites like Funny or Die.

Young's talk follows a July ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned a law known as the "Stolen Valor Act." The federal law made it illegal to falsely claim to have received military awards such as the Congressional Medal of Honor. The court's 2-1 ruling said it was a violation of the First Amendment to enforce the Stolen Valor Act.

"The ruling spoke of political satire and said that individuals who misrepresent themselves are essentially lying and that lying can be a form of protected speech just like satire, according to this case," Maxwell said.

Young's speech is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, in Derryberry Hall Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Young said she will discuss the Constitutional ramifications of political satire contained in such popular programs as "The Daily Show."

"Democratic governments are suitable homes for and even require political satire to function well. I'll also be talking about how satire works, cognitively, to expose hypocrisy and bring to light criticisms of people and institutions without explicitly criticizing them head-on," Young said.

Following Young's presentation, students and the public alike are invited to remain in Derryberry Hall Auditorium for the day's other big political event. The Highlands Debate 2010, the state's first general election gubernatorial debate held outside of a major Tennessee city, will be fed live to Derryberry Auditorium from the Bryan Fine Arts Building at 7 p.m.

The debate is being presented at TTU in partnership with WTVF NewsChannel5, the Tennessee League of Women Voters, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education and the Highlands, a regional economic development organization.

Maxwell says the debate is exciting for TTU students, who like their brethren nationwide, are growing more politically aware.

"It's a very exciting trend of late," she said. "Since the election of President (George W.) Bush and into the election of President Obama, young people seem to be voting in higher numbers."

> MORE: See this interview with Maxwell to learn more about the issues of free speech, political satire and trends in political involvement among college students.