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Constitution Cafe: Rational, Respectful, and Thought-Provoking Conversations

Last fall, I was at Panera Bread interviewing Fayrouz Saad, the woman running for congress, when a few people sitting at the table beside us stroked a conversation. One of them was John Kulesz, a local attorney and activist who for the past two and a half years has facilitated the Constitution Café at the Troy Historic Village in the Old Church.

“What’s the Constitution Café?” I asked.

He explained that it was a forum where people explore the meanings and ideas behind the Constitution of the United States. This project was started by author Christopher Phillips, author of Constitution Cafe, a book which addresses the much needed conversation about our founding document and forging common ground at a time when our country needs it most. 

I admitted that I didn’t know as much about the Constitution as I should, despite my college education and the amount of reading that I do. But I’m always up for learning.

“I went to law school and they discussed the Constitution once, on the first day of class,” he said and encouraged me to attend.

I ended up going about a month later and found the political discussions interesting and lively because the audience was diverse and interactive. In an era of extreme-partisanship, it was uplifting to meet Americans of all political opinions involved in rational, respectful, and thought-provoking conversations with one another.

Each month, there’s a different discussion. For instance, last week, the topic was the Separation of Powers. This provision bans any senator or representative from any civil office under the authority of the United States while they are holding elected office.

“Why do we have separate branches of government to begin with?” asked John. “Whose idea was that?”

Here’s a hint: It wasn’t a Founder. They cribbed the idea from a French philosopher!

Even during the half-hour interview, I learned so much from listening to John. No matter what profession a person is in, no matter what age, it’s important to be aware and always up to date of the laws governing their country. I came to the United States as a child and, like many other immigrants, was surprised how little many Americans knew about their own government. In my birth country of Iraq, people risked their lives just to read a book or article to find the truth. Those who attempted to write about the government, even if indirectly, were sentenced to prison, and if they repeated such behavior, they risked death.

Yet in the United States, discussions about “religion and politics” are often found inappropriate and therefore discouraged. So when during and after the recent electionspeople expressed their opinions, some of their friends with differing views “unfriended” them on social media.

“The people who started to “unfriend” people have forgotten how to talk to each other and they’ve forgotten how to listen,” said John.

Things are changing, however, and people are learning these forgotten skills. Maybe they’re even having fun in the process.

It’s fun to learn, explore, and discover ways to make a positive change in the world. Did you know Thomas Jefferson believed that Americans should examine and rewrite the U.S. Constitution to fit their needs every two decades! Ask yourself this question that’s posted on the website of the Constitution Café: “If you could scrap these parchment pages and redraft the text, what elements would you include, amend or leave out entirely?” It adds that “Utilizing the Socratic Method of inquiry and discussion, you have the chance to be like our Founding Fathers each month as we look at the Constitution, from the preamble to the articles to the amendments, engaging in civil discourse to ‘create’ a new Constitution.”

How exciting is that?

Constitution Cafés are free to attend. Programs take place on the second Sunday of each month at 2:00 pm (except for holidays). For more information about upcoming topics, visit http://troyhistoricvillage.org/events/constitution-cafes/