National Constitution Center Debates the Role of Civility in Democracy

Mar 08, 2011, 09:54 ET from National Constitution Center

Final event of major NEH-funded series

Features Filmmaker Ken Burns, former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton, former Dept. of Justice Official John Yoo, and PBS' Hari Sreenivasan

PHILADELPHIA, March 8, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Culminating a nationwide effort to explore and debate how civility, as well as dissent, play a role in effecting change, the National Constitution Center presents "Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America" Saturday, March 26 and Sunday, March 27, 2011.  The event will set the stage for subsequent efforts to engage people in communities across the country in reflecting upon and discussing the themes of civility, democracy, and dissent.  

The conference is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures program, which awarded grants in August 2010 for a series of national conversations on civility, which took place earlier this month in Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA and Pullman, WA.  

"Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America" is an interactive, interdisciplinary forum that will bring together the best and brightest from such fields as history, government, communications, and political philosophy.  This renowned group will guide public discussion of the role of dissent and protest throughout American history, and the degree to which dissent can and should be civil. At the close of the event, participants will present guidance on the tools, systems, and best practices that may contribute to productive social and political movements in the future of our nation.

"From the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement to present day debates, democratic dissent has been central to our nation's continuing quest to form a 'more perfect Union,'" said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner.  "During this timely event, we will address ways in which people across the nation can come together to address difficult issues without impeding the vibrancy of our democracy."  

"In the context of American history, where change was wrought in the crucible of debate about the nature as well as the rights of man, little is more important for the world's leading democracy than recommitting to an ethos of thoughtfulness in the public square," said Jim Leach, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns is taking part in the conference.  On Friday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m., the Center and PBS will host an early look at Burns' and Lynn Novick's upcoming film, PROHIBITION, which is scheduled to air on PBS this coming fall.  The public event will include a screening of highlights from the film and audience Q&A with Burns and Novick.  Throughout the rest of the weekend, Burns and Novick will participate in the History and Media and Communications breakout sessions, respectively, as well as the Town Hall Exchange on Saturday.  

On Saturday, March 26 at 9:30 a.m., Jim Leach, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, will provide opening remarks followed by a public discussion on the future of civility in our democracy, featuring public figures and former politicians from the areas of law and government:  

  • Keli A. Carender, political activist and blogger
  • David Eisner, National Constitution Center President and CEO
  • Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Representative (D-IN); Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University
  • John G. Palfrey, Jr., Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law; Vice Dean, Library and Information Resources; Faculty Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School
  • Edward G. Rendell, former Governor (D-PA)

Following the panel, Dr. Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, will deliver a keynote address on the importance of civility in public discourse.  

During five concurrent breakout discussion sessions from 1:45 p.m.3:45 p.m., educators, journalists, community leaders, public service leaders, and scholarly participants will discuss how to establish civic dialogue that simultaneously advances the common good and respects the voices of protest that often contribute to social progress.  

Participants will break into groups based on their areas of expertise: history, ethics and political philosophy, media and communications, religion, and civic and social entrepreneurs.  [See below for a list of breakout session participants.]

Following the discussion sessions, all participants will come together for a public Town Hall Exchange at 4:30 p.m., moderated by PBS NewsHour Correspondent and Director of Digital Partnerships Hari Sreenivasan.  The exchange also will include an audience Q&A session.

On Sunday, March 27, forum participants will brainstorm ways to create and disseminate subsequent programming to engage people in communities nationwide in reflection on, and discussion about, the themes of civility, democracy, and dissent.

Admission to the public events (PROHIBITION screening, law and government panel, and Town Hall Exchange) is FREE, but reservations are required and can be made by calling 215.409.6700.  Please note: seating is limited.

Portions of the conference will be webcast live at  The Center's new blog, Constitution Daily, also will feature live blogging of the events and ongoing coverage about civility and its connections to the Constitution.  Visit for more.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The National Constitution Center, located at 525 Arch St. on Philadelphia's Independence Mall, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the ideas and values it represents.  The Center serves as a museum, an education center, and a forum for debate on constitutional issues.  The museum dramatically tells the story of the Constitution from Revolutionary times to the present through more than 100 interactive, multimedia exhibits, film, photographs, text, sculpture and artifacts, and features a powerful, award-winning theatrical performance, "Freedom Rising."  The Center also houses the Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach, which serves as the hub for national constitutional education.  Also, as a nonpartisan forum for constitutional discourse, the Center presents – without endorsement – programs that contain diverse viewpoints on a broad range of issues.  For more information, call 215.409.6700 or visit

Breakout Sessions:

Session 1: History

  • Richard R. Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania (moderator)
  • Alan Brinkley, Allan Nevins Professor of American History, Columbia University
  • Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker, Florentine Films
  • Sam Chaltain, educator and organizational change consultant
  • Joseph J. Kelly, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Humanities Council
  • Dayna Laur, educator, York Central High School
  • Jennifer Lee, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California-Irvine
  • Daniel Okrent, author and journalist
  • Nicole Roper, teacher, West Philadelphia Catholic High School
  • Ralph Young, Professor, Department of History, Temple University

Session 2: Ethics and Political Philosophy

  • Rogers M. Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania (moderator)
  • William B. Allen, Professor of Political Philosophy, Michigan State University
  • Marc Brasoff, teacher, Constitution High School; 2010 National Constitution Center Education Fellow
  • Amy Gutmann, President and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
  • Don Imler, educator
  • Stephanie Jasky, Founder and Director, FedUpUSA
  • Andrew March, Associate Professor of Political Science, Yale University
  • Dennis Thompson, Professor of Government and Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy, Harvard University
  • John Yoo, Professor, School of Law, University of CaliforniaBerkeley

Session 3: Media and Communications

  • J. Michael Hogan, Liberal Arts Research Professor and Co-Director, Center for Democratic Deliberation, Pennsylvania State University (moderator)
  • Tony Blankley, Executive Vice President, Global Affairs, Edelman
  • Mona Charen, syndicated columnist
  • John L. Jackson, Jr., Richard Perry University Professor of Communication and Anthropology, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School of Communication and Walter & Leonore Annenberg Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania
  • Tanya Hamilton, film director and writer  
  • Richard Kilberg, President, Fred Friendly Seminars
  • Lynn Novick, documentary filmmaker, Florentine Films
  • Siobhan Reardon, President & Director, Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Michael Schudson, Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
  • Stuart Schulzke, Co-founder and Director of Content Development,

Session 4: Religion

  • Sarah B. Gordon, Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History University of Pennsylvania (moderator)
  • Philip Jenkins, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University; Distinguished Senior Fellow, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University
  • Thomas Kidd, Associate Professor of History and Senior Fellow, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University
  • Jeanne Halgren Kilde, Director, Religious Studies Program, University of Minnesota
  • Munir Kreidie, teacher, Kensington CAPA
  • Francis Graham Lee, Professor of Political Science, St. Joseph's University  
  • Erik Owens, Associate Director, Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life; Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theology and International Studies, Boston College    
  • Laurence Tom, pastor, Chinese Christian Church and Center

Session 5: Civic and Social Entrepreneurs

  • David Eisner, President & CEO, National Constitution Center  (moderator)
  • John Bridgeland, President & CEO, Civic Enterprises
  • W. Wilson Goode, Sr., National Director, Amachi Program
  • Caren Izzo, teacher, Haddonfield Middle School
  • David Karpf, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University School of Communication and Information; Faculty Associate, Eagleton Institute of Politics
  • Shannon Maynard, Director, Bankers Without Borders, Grameen Foundation
  • Beth Simone Noveck, Professor, New York Law School; former United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer

SOURCE National Constitution Center