Kobach talks constitutional law in Newton

Chad Frey
Former Kansas Secretary of State and candidate for U.S. Senate Kris Kobach presents a crash course on the U.S. Constitution at a recent meeting of the Newton Rotary Club.

Former Kansas Secretary of State and candidate for U.S. Senate Kris Kobach presented a crash course on the U.S. Constitution at a recent meeting of the Newton Rotary Club.

“For most people, this probably won’t be a review, but unfortunately, our schools used to teach constitutional law 50 or so years ago, but not so much today,” Kobach said.

Kobach told a crowd gathered at Charlie's Restaurant that he taught constitutional law for 15 years in Kansas City before becoming secretary of state. Many students arrived in his law school classroom without having taken a civics course.

“The Constitution is a passion of mine. It’s something that I’ve been focused on for most of my life, and it’s something that as a U.S. senator I would hope to be in a position to project, especially with judicial appointees,” Kobach said.

His speech focused on general constitutional principles, the commerce clause, the establishment clause and the Second Amendment.

He used stories from recent headlines and U.S. Supreme Court cases to explain the likely intent of the Founding Fathers in drafting certain parts of the Constitution and to show where the nation is today.

For example, Kobach said when the founders drafted the establishment clause within the First Amendment, they weren’t prohibiting the government from mentioning faith or religion in the public square, as is commonly understood today. They were prohibiting the federal government from establishing an official religion, he said.

The founders were well aware of the bloodshed and assassinations in England as the kingdom was consumed over whether to establish Catholicism or Protestantism or some other sect as its official church, Kobach said. At the time they were drafting the U.S. Constitution, nine of the 13 colonies had already established official religions.

“The Founding Fathers in American said, ’We’re not going to have that fight,’ ” Kobach said. “They said, ’We’re not going to fight a civil war over that question.’ ”

The first Congress celebrated the drafting of the Constitution by asking George Washington to declare a day of Thanksgiving and they provided Bibles to schools, Kobach said.

“They weren’t shying away from prayer. They weren’t shying away from thanking God and imploring God for his favor,” Kobach said.

Since that time, he said, the meaning of the establishment clause has drifted as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on different cases on the topic. Kobach listed a variety of cases since the 1950s in which the court prohibited prayer in public schools, Bible reading in public schools, prohibited the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools, prohibited moments of silence, eliminated prayer at graduation ceremonies and, in Texas, the court ruled unconstitutional student-led prayer before football games.

“Which misses the point,” Kobach said. “Because in Texas, football is a religion.”

When he launched his campaign for secretary of state in 2010, Kobach said, groups began asking if he could teach a Constitution 101 class to inform voters. His first few presentations took more than two hours. Kobach said he can now do a crash course in a little more than an hour and still have time to take questions.