Former U.S. Rep. Robert Durden “Bob” Inglis urged students to lead “lives of courage” at the Erskine College Constitution Day convocation Sept. 15.
Inglis cited John Adams, a patriot who succeeded George Washington as president of the United States, for his courage in defending British soldiers implicated in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Five colonists were killed in the incident, but Adams, who believed the British were provoked by a mob, accepted the case because he believed in the right to a fair trial.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” Adams said in a closing argument at one of the trials.
Adams called his decision to defend the British soldiers “the best service he could render to his nation,” Inglis said, although he lost about half his law practice after taking the case.
Inglis said the United States constitution—an outline of which he believes John Adams “had in his head before he asked Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence”—“puts government in a box.” He characterized the first amendment to the constitution as “[protecting] faith from the government,” unlike Turkey’s constitution, for example, which he said “protects the government from faith.”
Focusing on what some perceive as a weakening of the first amendment’s protections, Inglis said the idea that people of faith are “put upon” in the United States today is false. “All of us are able to speak,” he said. “The ‘put-upon’ narrative causes us not to speak, but we need to speak.”
Speaking particularly to Christian believers, Inglis said, “The world is waiting for people to proclaim truths” but stressed that Christians are a minority in society. “Think of the model of Joseph in Egypt. Did he try to get the pharaoh and other Egyptians to conform to the Hebrew understanding of God? No. He was a blessing to those people….he was salt and light.”
The founding fathers were able to say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident” because “they were engaged in a search for truth,” Inglis said, and he encouraged students to rekindle that search, especially in this time of so-called “post-truth politics” marked by continued repetition of talking points even in the face of factual rebuttals.
“Help our society to engage in a search for truth,” he said.
Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1992, never having previously sought public office, Robert Inglis represented Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., from 1993 to 1998. After unsuccessfully challenging U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings in 1998, he returned to the practice of commercial real estate law in Greenville. He was re-elected to Congress in 2004 and served until losing in the South Carolina Republican primary of 2010. Inglis launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative tax-exempt educational outreach at George Mason University in 2012. He now serves as executive director of “republicEN,” a group facilitiated by the Energy and Enterprise Initiative and described on the republicEN website as “Americans educating the country about free-enterprise solutions to climate change.” A 2015 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, Inglis appears in the film Merchants of Doubt and in the Showtime series YEARS of Living Dangerously. He was named this year to POLITICO Magazine’s “Politico 50,” a list of visionaries transforming American politics.