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Legal community supports civic education efforts

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After winning the We The People simulated congressional hearing competition in December, one of the largest first-place teams in Indiana in at least seven years will head to Washington, D.C., for the national competition in late April.

While the legal community has historically supported various high school teams from Indiana over the years via donations through sections of the Indiana State Bar Association and by giving their time to coach students, for the first time, individual attorneys can donate funds through the Indiana Bar Foundation's Web site, www.inbf.org, until March 5.

We The People is a civic education program where students study six units: philosophical and historical underpinnings of the Constitution; writing of and debates about the Constitution; Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln through the civil rights movement; modern day functions of the branches of government and federalism; Bill of Rights and civil liberties; and current applications of the units and international relations.

Near the end of the semester-long class, students can participate in the competition of a series of mock congressional hearings. At the hearings, students answer questions from members of the community who volunteer to be judges.

Erin Braun, director of Civic Education and We The People state coordinator at the IBF, said the class of 28 students will need approximately $30,000 to cover their expenses, which include food, hotel, travel, and tours of various national landmarks.

The reason she and others are asking for funding is because the students do a better job if they're more concerned about competing than fundraising, she said.

Teams from Indiana have consistently placed in the top 10 in the country in recent years. In 2009, Indiana's team - represented by Hamilton Southeastern High School students - placed fifth.

Those who support the teams' efforts consider it among the best things they do.

ISBA President Roderick Morgan is involved with the program and said he looks forward to judging the program in Washington, D.C.

"I've judged the competitions at the elementary, middle school, and high school level," he said. "It's one of most refreshing things I've done in my career. It's a chance to see how young people get an understanding of how the Constitution works and how to apply it."

Morgan said the students take their work seriously.

"There's joy and heartache," he said. "If they miss an answer, they're crestfallen."

R. William Jonas, immediate past-president of the ISBA, continues to support the program.

Braun, along with Eric Steele, state coordinator for Project Citizen, and Kyle Burson, We The People program coordinator, said they couldn't thank Jonas enough for his support over the years, which is why he received the William G. Baker Civic Education Award Dec. 13.

That same night, Shortridge High School principal Brandon Cosby received the John J. Patrick Civic Education Award for his work at the Indianapolis Public School system's magnet school for law and public policy. Cosby heavily incorporated the We The People program into that school's curriculum.

Jonas said he was trying to get the program more of a presence in his congressional district because mock trials are already prevalent in South Bend. He's also working with Braun and Burson to convince South Bend schools to take on the program, and would like other cities in the northern part of the state to consider adding We The People to their schools.

Part of why he wants to see the program spread, he said, "is their research tells them that of the alumni of the program, 80 percent of them vote. This makes it clear these kids learn the importance of voting and they're informed voters when they do vote."

He added lawyers in other states spoke with him at the national competition last year about how the ISBA has been able to get attorneys involved and how they could emulate that in their jurisdictions.

The program is also tailored to students of all abilities, not just honors students, and all students who participate in the program have done well, he added.

"Whole classes are involved ... so it's not cherry-picked people who are all over achievers," he said. "They understand at the competitive level the importance of everyone participating. You see the looks in their eyes, and they draw each other into the conversation and discussion with judges. That's terrific stuff. ... It's how we operate successfully as a country if we can get people to do it."

As far as giving money to support the teams, Jonas said he realized that these are tough economic times and that world events such as the earthquake in Haiti have had an impact on how much people might be able to give.

"All I can tell you is having seen the national finals last year and having seen the Indiana team perform, I would tell you for myself it's an easy choice for me to make as opposed to giving to some other charities," he said.

He added the experience of going to Washington, D.C., might be the only chance for some of the students. Additionally, teams that make it to the top 10 get to compete in a hearing room in one of the congressional office buildings, something they wouldn't otherwise get to experience.

"Unfortunately there's no requirement to have civic education taught in schools," Morgan said, "but I would like We The People to be taught in every school in the state, or the country for that matter. There's a lack of education about what it means to be an American and how it affects our public lives. ... I wish we could get this into more schools."

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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