Monday, April 22, 2013

"Constitution USA: It's a Free Country, Right?" at Rhode Island College

On Tuesday, April 30, at 5:30 p.m., a group of legal pioneers with Rhode Island ties takes center stage in Rhode Island College’s Alger Hall 110 to share their perspectives about the constitutional issues with which they will forever be associated.

The American Democracy Project at Rhode Island College, in association with Rhode Island PBS, is sponsoring the panel discussion “Constitution USA: It’s a Free Country, Right?” The event coincides with the local premiere of the four-part national PBS series, Constitution USA, beginning May 9 on Rhode Island PBS. The Constitution USA series, hosted by NPR’s Peter Sagal, airs on Rhode Island PBS on consecutive Thursdays at 9 p.m. The second episode, “It’s a Free Country,” includes a segment about the Cranston “prayer banner.” Each episode of Constitution USA repeats the following Saturday at 1:00 p.m. on WSBE Rhode Island PBS (digital 36.1), and on the following Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. on WSBE Learn (digital 36.2).

The April 30 event at Rhode Island College is open to the public and will include a short preview screening of Constitution USA. The panel discussion will follow and will be moderated by Marc Levitt, writer, educator, and host of the award-winning Action Speaks. Panelists are:

Jim Taricani, award-wining I-team investigative reporter for WJAR-TV, NBC 10, who was sentenced by a federal judge to six months of home confinement for refusing to disclose a confidential source;

Jared A. Goldstein, professor of law at Roger Williams University School of Law, and a national expert on the applicability of habeas corpus to the Guantanamo Bay detainees in conjunction with his representation of several families of Kuwaiti detainees;

Dr. Ellery Schempp, Brown graduate and accomplished physicist, who was the primary student involved in the landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court case, Abington School District v. Schempp, which challenged mandatory Bible reading in public schools;

Debbie Weisman Clasie, party to the United States Supreme Court case Lee v. Weisman, which challenged the Providence School Committee and Superintendent of Schools policy to permit religious authority figures to give invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies;

Jessica Ahlquist (invited, not confirmed) the Cranston High School West student who successfully petitioned to remove a prayer mural painted on the school’s auditorium wall as party to Ahlquist v. Cranston;

Jennifer Magaw, now a public defender in New Bedford, MA, who, in 2005 as a Rhode Island College freshman and part of the campus Woman’s Studies Organization (WSO), filed suit against Rhode Island College, citing violation of free speech rights, after campus authorities removed WSO signs about women’s reproductive rights.

Breathing new life into the traditional civics lesson, Peter Sagal (host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) travels across the country on a Harley Davidson to find out where the U.S. Constitution lives, how it works and how it doesn’t; how it unites us as a nation and how it has nearly torn us apart. Sagal introduces some major constitutional debates today and talks with ordinary Americans and leading constitutional experts about what the Constitution actually says and what it means, the dramatic historical events and crises that have defined it, and why all this matters. For more information about the series, visit

Episode I - A More Perfect Union (May 9)
Episode II - It’s A Free Country (May 16)
Episode III - Created Equal (May 23)
Episode IV - Built to Last? (May 30)

WSBE Rhode Island PBS transmits standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) programming over the air on digital 36.1 and on subscription TV services: Cox 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD(in RI), Full Channel 08, Comcast 819HD, Verizon FiOS 18 / 518HD(in MA), DirecTV 36 / 3128HD, Dish Network 7776.

WSBE Learn transmits over the air on digital 36.2 and on subscription TV services: Cox 808, Verizon FiOS 478, Full Channel 89, Comcast 294 or 312.