The United States will go the way of history’s “failed empires” if we don’t protect the rule of law, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63 told SCU Law grads in his commencement address on May 19.
“Without the rule of law, there would be no democracy. Today, the institutions of our democracy are being seriously tested.”
Edited excerpts. There’s the story of the rabbi and the priest who decided they would get to know each other a little better. One night, they went to a boxing match and just before the bell rang, one of the boxers made the sign of the cross. The rabbi nudged the priest and said, “What does that mean?” The priest said, “It doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t fight.”
We bless ourselves with the hope that everything’s gonna be great in America— but frankly, it doesn’t mean a damn thing unless we’re willing to fight for it. The future of our democracy will be determined by whether or not we are a nation of laws, whether or not we respect the institutions and the traditions that support our democracy.
There are dangers out there—on campuses that seek to restrict the ability of free speech to take place. We can’t be afraid to hear the views of those we disagree with. We cannot stand by while a free press is intimidated because it reports the facts, and we have to recognize that religions need to be free to express their beliefs— and that we should protect the separation of church and state in that process. We have to respect the diversity of this country, the fact that we are a nation that has welcomed immigrants and refugees from every corner of the world. We are a nation that builds bridges, not walls.
And most of all, we have to respect the truth—the honesty to state the truth about both our successes and our failures.
As secretary, I saw the values in the men and women that serve this country in uniform, willing to fight and die for this country. Is it too much to ask our elected leadership to find a little bit of that courage in order to govern and protect our country?
Your duty is to the law, but it is also to the nation, the duty to fight and never give up fighting until we have an American renaissance, until the dream of my parents for a better life for all of our children is fulfilled, and until we have a government of, by, and for all of the people. And frankly, it doesn’t mean a damn thing unless you’re willing to fight for it.