U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy visits Farrington
Students shouldn't take freedom for granted, and the Constitution belongs to them as well as lawyers and judges, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said at Farrington High School yesterday.
They need to know the meaning of freedom and pass it onto others less fortunate for democracy to flourish, Kennedy said.
He quoted Thomas Jefferson, who once said: "Democracy depends on a virtuous enlightened people."
"Overall, I'm very concerned that people think democracy is on automatic pilot -- and it isn't," Kennedy said, before addressing a group of about 150 Farrington and Kahuku High juniors and seniors. "It has to be taught every generation; every generation has to teach the next generation."
Kennedy, accompanied by Judge Myron H. Bright, senior judge with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, engaged a panel made up of 13 students in thought-provoking discussion yesterday as part of the national Dialogue on Freedom program. The program stimulates discussion between students and jurists about America's constitutional traditions. The judges are at the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law this year for the Jurists-in-Residence program.
"Make no mistake," Kennedy said. "The verdict on democracy is still out, and millions of people in the world that are unempowered, that are wondering if democracy is the way to go -- and we must teach them.
"Our security, our first security is in the world of ideas, and if other people acknowledge that our ideas are benign, tolerant, decent, respectful, then our freedom and our own security is best assured," he said.
Kennedy had the students imagine finding themselves in a Third World country where the unemployment is high, where those with jobs earn $2 or less per day and where government and its elections are riddled with corruption. Its people believe that the United States is evil, its culture decadent and that democracy is not worth pursuing, he said.
Although tentative at first, the students eventually warmed up to Kennedy, expressing their thoughts on whether they are morally obligated to impress democracy on people and countries who do not embrace it.
Miguel Cadoy III, 16, president of Farrington's junior class, said the discussion made him think even more about America's responsibility to people who are less empowered. He appreciates the freedom, the wealth and opportunities he enjoys as a citizen, even more so after he visited his parents' homeland in the Philippines and saw the contrast between the haves and have-nots.
"I think we have it good here unlike other countries, and I think America should be helping other countries for their betterment," he said.
He says many of his peers do not fully understand freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.
Student Jennefer Schwall, 16, said many people say they have a lot of freedom but do not know what it really means.
To her, "freedom means the ability to live your life the way you want to without having to be judged. Being free is being able to think on your own and not having to constantly listen to a higher authority who thinks they're making the right choices for yourself," she said.
It is Kennedy's hope that more youths out there get it and act on it because of these kinds of discussions.
"I hope they come out of here wanting to do more about what their country needs -- to know that democracy is at risk and freedom can't be taken for granted," he said.