BYU begins ‘Year of Constitution’

President urges all students to read and study document

By Tad Walch @Tad_Walch Sep 12, 2007, 12:37am MDT

PROVO — Brigham Young University President Cecil Samuelson called this the “Year of the Constitution” at the school Tuesday during the opening devotional of the fall semester.

Speaking on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Samuelson encouraged all BYU students to read a book already assigned to incoming freshmen over the summer — “The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution,” by Linda R. Monk.

The selection of the book was connected to the topic for the devotional and to the scheduled campus visits of three national dignitaries in October and November, when BYU will host U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and bestselling historian Nathaniel Philbrick.

Samuelson’s wife, Sharon, also spoke and recommended that students read “1776,” by historian David McCullough. McCullough is in Utah today to deliver the keynote address when President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is awarded the Municipal Citizen of the Year Award by the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

“Please take advantage of the unique opportunity we will all have this year to learn, understand and appreciate (the Constitution) more,” President Samuelson said.

The Samuelsons told students that Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church, which owns BYU, once said, “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on earth” and prayed at the dedication of the Kirtland, Ohio, temple that it would “be established forever.”

They also reminded the 5,539 gathered in the Marriott Center that LDS scriptures assert that Jesus Christ raised up the Founding Fathers to establish the Constitution so the church could be organized in the United States in 1830.

“Think what might have been the result,” Sharon Samuelson said, “if there had not been freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly expressly guaranteed. While not everyone in the 1830s necessarily believed fully in the freedom of religion, it nevertheless was the law of the land.”

The U.S. Constitution was the first written constitution in the world, President Samuelson said, quoting Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve.

“Frequently copied, it has become the United States’ most important export,” Elder Oaks said. “After two centuries, every nation in the world except six have adopted written constitutions, and the U.S. Constitution was the model for all of them.”

This is the first time BYU has asked all incoming freshmen to read a book, said Steve Turley, associate dean of the Office of First-Year Experience.

“We thought it would be nice to be able to have campus-wide conversations, and it fits in nicely with a lot of things coming up this fall, the forums, the Sept. 11 devotional, and freshmen courses like American Heritage,” Turley said.

“The Words We Live By” was suggested by a social science librarian and approved before Philbrick’s visit was confirmed.

“At first I didn’t understand who was assigning us this book,” said Jaz Beckwith, an 18-year-old nursing major from Fayetteville, Ga. “I thought it was for a class. I really liked it, especially the section about the importance of the Preamble. The main emphasis was on the men of that day and just how inspired the Constitution was.”

The book also strongly tied together current events and the Constitution, said Jessie Grange, 19, a nursing major from Vancouver, Wash.

The university cultivated an online discussion group, assigning chapters before each discussion and e-mailing the chats to all freshmen, Beckwith said.

Tuesday’s event marked the seventh time the Samuelsons have delivered the opening devotional of a semester since Cecil Samuelson became BYU’s president in the spring of 2003.