Constitution USA: It’s a Free Country, Right? Defending Freedom of Speech, Press and Religion

Four Rhode Islanders who have been in the national spotlight for their roles in landmark legal cases involving the Constitution and Bill of Rights will share their experiences and perspectives during a panel discussion at Rhode Island College on Tuesday (April 30) at 5:30 p.m. in Alger Hall, Room 110.

The American Democracy Project at Rhode Island College, in association with Rhode Island PBS, is sponsoring the panel discussion, called “Constitution USA: It’s a Free Country, Right?” The event coincides with the local premiere of the four-part national PBS series “Constitution USA,” beginning May 9 on Rhode Island PBS.

The panel discussion, which is open to the public, will include a short preview screening of “Constitution USA.” The discussion will be moderated by Marc Levitt, writer, educator and host of the award-winning  radio program “Action Speaks.”

Panelists are:

Jim Taricani, award-winning I-team investigative reporter for WJAR-TV, NBC 10, who was sentenced by a federal judge to six months of home confinement for refusing to disclose a confidential source in one of his stories.

Jared A. Goldstein, professor of law at Roger Williams University School of Law and a national expert on the applicability of habeas corpus to the Guantanamo Bay detainees in conjunction with his representation of several families of Kuwaiti detainees.

Ellery Schempp, Brown graduate and accomplished physicist, who was the primary student involved in the landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court case, Abington School District v. Schempp, which challenged mandatory Bible reading in public schools.

Debbie Weisman Clasie, party to the United States Supreme Court case Lee v. Weisman, which challenged the Providence School Committee and superintendent of schools policy to permit religious authority figures to give invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies.

Jennifer Magaw, a public defender in New Bedford, Mass., who, in 2005 as a Rhode Island College freshman and part of the campus Woman’s Studies Organization (WSO), filed suit against Rhode Island College, citing violation of free speech rights, after campus authorities removed WSO signs about women’s reproductive rights.

The PBS series “Constitution USA,”  hosted by NPR’s Peter Sagal, will air on Rhode Island PBS on consecutive Thursdays at 9 p.m. The second episode, “It’s a Free Country,” includes a segment about the Cranston “prayer banner.”

Each Thursday night episode of the series will be repeated the following Saturday at 1 p.m. on WSBE Rhode Island PBS (digital 36.1) and the following Tuesday at 10 p.m. on WSBE Learn (digital 36.2).

The American Democracy Project(at Rhode Island College is one of the state's leading organizations in civic and political engagement. Its goal is to produce graduates who are committed to being active, involved citizens in their communities.

Rhode Island College is the only college in the state to participate in the ADP and is often used as a model for initiatives by other colleges.

For further information about the panel discussion, contact Valerie Endress at (401) 456-4781.

For further information about the PBS series “Constitution USA,” visit