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Jay Sekulow delivers 2018 Founders' Day address despite student opposition

As part of a protest organized by Common Ground member and FORGE Vice President James Stair, students attended Founders' Day draped in rainbow flags.
As part of a protest organized by Common Ground member and FORGE Vice President James Stair, students attended Founders' Day draped in rainbow flags.

Alumnus Jay Sekulow, a lawyer on Trump’s personal legal team and a prominent figure in the conservative Christian movement, returned to campus Feb. 6 to deliver the 2018 Founders’ Day address.

The annual event, which typically occurs with little fanfare, attracted controversy this year when students spoke out against the university inviting Sekulow back to campus.

[video credit="Katie Atkinson" align="right"][/video]

His past comments regarding the LGBTQ community prompted about 20 students to attend the speech while draped in rainbow flags.

It was part of a peaceful protest organized by Common Ground Member and FORGE Vice President James Stair.

Protest participants sat in silence while others clapped or laughed during Sekulow’s speech.

Randy Harshbarger, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, wore a rainbow ribbon on his robes in solidarity.

“It was part of an expression of opinion that several of the faculty wanted to make,” Harshbarger said. “It was just a way of saying ‘we acknowledge that you’re here, we recognize your right to speak here, we’re not gonna disrupt, we want you to know that we’re concerned about the attitudes and policies of this administration on a lot of issues, not just LGBT.”

Sekulow, a former Student Government Association president, acknowledged the controversy his visit has caused.

“I did have the privilege of serving as a student government president and for that not only do I thank you but I know what it's like,” Sekulow said to the SGA representatives who sat on stage. “I even know what it's like going through having me as your speaker.”

Jayla Moody
Mercer University students, staff and alum gathered in Willingham Hall for the annual Founders' Day ceremony hosted by the Student Government Association's Heritage Life Committee.

Throughout the speech, Sekulow reminisced on his time at Mercer and talked about meeting his wife here.  

Referencing his career and professional relationships, Sekulow said that his job is to defend his clients even when he doesn’t agree with them.

“I'm not the conscience of the client. I'm the lawyer for the client,” Sekulow said.

He said it’s important for students to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

What you're learning here, you're learning how to think. You're learning how to engage. Mercer has a tremendously rich heritage,” Sekulow said. “But the heritage is the past. You are its future.”

Stair said he had the opportunity to shake Sekulow’s hand before the event.

“I thought it was great that we can both have very distinct differences in our beliefs but still be civil in how we treat one another,” Stair said. “[Sekulow] gave an impassioned speech.”

Later in the day, Sekulow participated in a closed Q&A session with students and faculty at the University Center.

Students were allowed to ask pre-submitted questions. Topics ranged from immigration to abortion.

We recognize that there were students, faculty, and staff that disagree with viewpoints Dr. Sekulow has held,” said Kyle Sears, director of Mercer media relations. “We wanted an opportunity for them to engage with him and I think that’s what this afternoon’s forum was about.”

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