Immigration is back in the headlines, as Dreamers await a resolution to their precarious status in the country and President Donald Trump, who championed an anti-immigrant agenda during his campaign, pushes Democrats to strike a deal on comprehensive reform of the law.
That’s one reason why the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison chose the 14th Amendment to the Constitution for its annual essay contest.
The center invited undergraduate students to write 1,000-word essays responding to the question: “Should the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution be repealed or modified to restrict more precisely the definition of who may claim citizenship?”
The essay topic “reflects on the heated debate over the status of undocumented immigrants and their American-born children, especially in light of the importance of this topic during the 2016 presidential election,” states a notice about the contest on the center’s web page.
The so-called “citizenship clause” of the 14th Amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
A repeal or modification of that clause presumably would change current law that confers citizenship on children of undocumented immigrants who are born in the United States, agreed Richard Avramenko, co-director of the center. Trump as a candidate called for an end to such birthright citizenship.
The center, funded by the conservative Bradley and Koch foundations, was founded by the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights. That group of UW-Madison faculty members successfully fought campus speech codes in the mid-1990s and founded the center soon after.
Avramenko said “hot button” issues are typically chosen for the essay contest because that makes for lively essays.
Last year, hot on the heels of a presidential election in which Trump prevailed in the Electoral College while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, contestants were asked to write on whether the Electoral College should be abolished. The year prior, as appearances by controversial guest speakers roiled campuses across the country, students were invited to write on freedom of speech and who should be welcome on campus.
“We’re not looking for any particular point of view, we’re looking for good argumentation,” Avramenko, an associate professor of political science, said. “My job is to teach students how to make arguments."
A winning essay likely would present both sides of the arguments, for and against changing the citizenship clause, he said.
Avramenko said he is not aware of any call in conservative circles to repeal the clause. “I hope it doesn’t get repealed,” he said.
Republican legislators have been so worried that conservative ideas were not being heard at UW-Madison that they budgeted $3 million last year to found the Tommy Thompson Center on campus and funded conservative speakers at other UW schools.
But the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy has been providing programming challenging the liberal establishment of the campus for nearly two decades.
The center seeks to promote understanding and critical appreciation of the cardinal democratic principles, like religious and political freedom; the free market; educational reform; limited government; constitutionalism and the rule of law institutions, according to its website.
Donald Downs, a professor emeritus at UW-Madison and expert on free speech, was a founder.
A second purpose of the center is to promote intellectual diversity on the campus, by providing speakers, forums, and programs. Especially those that preset points of view that “challenge reigning campus orthodoxies,” the website says.
Avramenko believes there is plenty of appetite for challenging points of view on the campus.
“There’s good stomach for vigorous debate here at UW-Madison,” he said.
The center was co-sponsor last year of an appearance by controversial social scientist Charles Murray, who critics say espouses racist theories. The scheduled speaker this year for the Disinvited Dinner, which provides a platform to someone whose speech has been suppressed, is conservative columnist George Will, who apparently was disinvited from speaking at Scripps College in 2014.
Avramenko said the event was meant to “put a microphone back in the hands of an individual whose First Amendment rights have been infringed” by campuses that rescinded their invitation for him to speak.
He said he expects the contest could draw as many as 20 entries, as it did last year.
“If we get even 10, I’ll be delighted,” he said.
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Welcome to Connecticut's Laws of Life Essay Program! The descriptions and links listed here are to help support a teacher’s choice to register their class(es) for this free character-education writing project. While SEE only administers this project for teachers and their students in Connecticut schools, we welcome those outside of Connecticut to use any of the resources provided on the site to administer their own writing project.
SEE is a non-sectarian 501(c)3 education organization that obtains meaningful financial support from public and foundation grants, fees for services, and gifts from those who support ethics in action. SEE is not affiliated with any religious organization and does not espouse or represent any specific religious belief.
Laws of Life concludes each year with an award program for the writers, their teachers and family at SEE’s spring Character Celebration. Pictured above are the 2017 essay winners that attended the Celebration.