Lafayette Debates 2016 - The balance between Security and Civil Liberties in Democracies

May 25, 2016 | By Higher Education

Since 2013, the French Embassy has partnered with The George Washington University to organize intercollegiate policy debates which invites students from the best universities in the country to engage in the discussion. In 2014, they became the Lafayette Debates. The tradition dates back to 1824, when General Marquis de Lafayette made his "hero’s tour" of the United States to celebrate the role France played in the American Revolutionary War. During his tour, General Lafayette stopped at the Columbian College (now The George Washington University), where he and his son, George Washington Lafayette, were welcomed by the debate and literary society. Today, the Lafayette Debates have been revived to promote continued dialogue between the two countries.

This year, the selected topic touched on the balance between security and civil liberties in democratic societies—participants had to argue for or against an increase in domestic surveillance in response to the threat of terrorist attacks. After a year in which both France and the United States were shook by violent attacks, the issue of domestic surveillance is more relevant than ever before, and debaters from top schools were asked to carefully consider the benefits and risks of increased surveillance as a response to terrorist threats.

As in years past, teams competed for both the General Lafayette Trophy and the Championship Trophy. The General Lafayette competition was open to both French and U.S. military academies. This year, the top two schools that debated for this trophy were the U.S. Naval Academy, based in Annapolis, Md., and the Ecole de Guerre, based in Paris. This year, the Ecole de Guerre took home the trophy.

For the Championship Trophy, The George Washington University and Stanford debate teams competed in the final rounds, which were judged by a panel of French and American experts. On the affirmative side was The George Washington University, whose team argued that increasing certain types of surveillance had been proven to thwart terrorist attacks in the past, and could help to prevent attacks in the future. Delivering the negative argument Stanford University’s team, who argued that increasing surveillance would not effectively prevent terrorist attacks, and that such actions would compromise citizens’ right to privacy, one that is fundamental to democratic societies. The panel of judges praised both teams, who spent the weeks before the competition diligently researching the topic and preparing to defend their assigned position. Although Stanford University was awarded the top title, both teams that reached the finals will receive a paid study trip to Paris as a reward for their performance. During their tour, they will meet with French diplomats, politicians and academics, and be inducted into the Young Ambassadors Alumni Network to promote ongoing transatlantic dialogue and networking between France and the U.S.

Read a full report in News from France

Watch the video on the 2016 Tournament in Washington D.C. or visit the Photo Gallery

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