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Cambridge Debate Sides with Belief in ‘Separation of Church and State’

Tonya Malinowski / News Editor

The 22nd Annual Cambridge debate, held last Wednesday in Alumni Hall, argued the separation of church and state and was a commanding victory for the proposition.

Four visiting Cambridge University students, two on each side of the debate, and four Central Connecticut State University students comprised the teams. The proposition, arguing for a secular government, won on a 13 to seven audience vote. 

“It’s just great to be here and have the chance to match wits with people of different viewpoints but such common interests,” Cambridge student Sam Dobin said. “Now if only I could learn to drive properly on American roads.”

The unconventional debate style featured eight-minute presentations by each of the debaters with other participants allowed to stand and interrupt. The presenter had the option of deferring the interruption with a simple “no, thank you”.

The participants on the opposition, for a non-secular government, admitted they were presenting an argument contrary to their personal beliefs. 

“It makes it more challenging to argue against your own opinion,” Cambridge student Mary Nugent said. “You rely only on logic and it really helps you examine the issue from a new angle.”

Moderated by CCSU student Pam Majidy, the debate became heated when tuxedo-clad Cambridge student Sean Koh presented the argument that a non-secular government gives leaders a false idea of “divine mandate”.

“Religion cannot effectively govern a state, and leaders that think they are carrying out the work of God lose the ability to think pragmatically.’ Koh said. “Then they go out and do things like invade Iraq.”

CCSU students on the opposition Kelly Fournier and Chris Leahy relied on the history of religion in America, religious morality and personal belief to present their case to an audience which included President Jack Miller and his wife along with other administrative staff, faculty and students. 

“I speak of Christianity because I am a Christian and it’s what I feel in my heart,” Fournier said. “When my God and my government both say ‘do not kill’, I can’t see them as separate.”

Two debaters from each side presented their initial arguments then a question and answer session preceded the closing four. The audience voted anonymously on debate style and quality of argument. 

CCSU senior Peter Krol argued for the proposition, citing the Constitution and taxpayer consideration as reasons to support a secular government.

“Under the First Amendment, we are allowed to choose what to believe and how,” Krol said. “Taxpayer dollars will have to go to church funds of a religion you don’t support.”

The event ended in good spirits with handshakes and hugs across teams. The Cambridge students will close their debate tour at Yale before heading home to England.