Best known for a moment at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in which he flashed a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution to lecture then-candidate Donald Trump about the Bill of Rights, lawyer and activist Khizr Khan spoke at length about his appreciation for America’s founding document during an April 20 public talk at the Trent-Semans Center at Duke.
Khan spoke of his love for the “dignities” and “liberties” the Constitution affords Americans and the values they’ve instilled in him and his family, including his son, Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in 2004 while serving in Baqubah, Iraq, and was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
At one point in the talk, Khan pulled out a booklet of the Constitution to read from the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, which affords equal protection under the law to all citizens.
“This document contains values,” he said. “It contains the goodness of this country and the goodness of this nation.”
Khan, a Gold Star father, focuses his work on immigration and international business law. He also founded a pro bono project to provide legal services for the families of men and women serving in the military.
Among the stories he told to a capacity audience, Khan recounted the minutes leading up to his speech in which he asked a producer about the now-famous gesture.
“May I pull [the Constitution] and show it to the audience when I say, ‘have you read the Constitution of the United States?’ Khan recalled asking. “I am looking at him and he’s asking me, ‘are you sure, Mr. Khan, you can do this?’ and I said ‘yes.’
“That will have a tremendous impact on the audience,” Khan said he was told.
In the months since, the act has resonated across the country. Khan told stories of becoming inspired by high school students he’s met during his travels and a letter he received from a nurse who served in World War II. Each anecdote tied back to his belief in the value of freedom, whether it’s freedom of choice, expression or professional goals allowed because of Constitutional rights.
“I don’t call these the ‘Bill of Rights and amendments to the Constitution, I call them ‘human dignities’ that we all cherish, that we all aspire to have in our life,” he said.
Notably, Khan said his belief in American values has been strengthened in recent months because of his interactions with young Americans, including during his day spent at Duke. Many of the differences that can divide people, he said, can also be used to create more inclusive communities, something he sees teens and college students actively trying to build.
“Mankind has come to a point,” he said, “where we have to look at each other with equal dignity.”
Khizr Khan’s visit to Duke was part of the James P. Gorter Lectureship, which honors Gorter’s contributions as founder and inaugural chair of the Duke Islamic Studies Center Advisory Board. It was cosponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics.