Before friends of HBU, Dr. Stewart Morris, Sr., University founding father, businessman and philanthropist signed an agreement in September in the Joella and Stewart Morris Cultural Arts Center to donate $10 million through the Joella and Stewart Morris Foundation. The transformational gift establishes the Morris Family Center for Law & Liberty at Houston Baptist University and will allow the construction of a classroom building modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
As a Navy veteran and a lifelong patriot and entrepreneur, the project is especially close to Dr. Morris’ heart. “Values like patriotism, duty and honor may seem old-fashioned, but they are important to the future of our nation,” he said. “University students should be taught about our nation’s Founding Fathers, and why the principles of liberty, limited government, the rule of law and free enterprise are so important. It is a privilege to give this gift.”
HBU president, Dr. Robert B. Sloan, expressed his and the University community’s gratitude for such a generous offering. “The impact of this gift will be seen for generations to come in the lives of our students, and therefore in the cultural fabric of Houston, the State of Texas, America, and even in nations around the world,” Sloan said.
Dr. Chris Hammons, Center director, said he envisions the Independence Hall model as a place in which classes, seminars, programs and discussions will take place revolving around American history and the Constitution. Hammons presented Dr. Morris with a 1926 certificate from the 150th anniversary of the USA’s independence, including a piece of the original, 1733 Independence Hall wood floor.
A daughter of Dr. Morris and the chairman of MFT Interests, Lisa Morris Simon ’76 shared how important it is to the family that United States history be remembered and taught. “My parents were always hysterically historical,” she said. “We’ve been taught to look to history to not repeat the mistakes of the past. And, my dad taught me to always look up first to God before you look ahead.”
Stewart Morris, Jr., said the Morris family shared his father’s desire that all Americans know about the Constitution and about free enterprise. “We have a real opportunity, but we also have a responsibility to teach the next generation,” he said. “I think this is the right thing to do. We want to perpetuate the thought that fed into the miracle of the creation of the American Constitution. It is a document that is still alive and powerful today. We don’t want to lose what we have in the greatest nation on Earth. Although there are competing ideas, as the Bible says, ‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’ I very much enjoy the concept of free enterprise; it is the engine for our economy and a key part of the Founding Fathers’ principles. After a lot of prayer and discussion, we’re excited that now this historic symbol of America will be built on this campus.”
Hammons said that, as he got to know Dr. Morris, he learned that Morris would reminisce on the past only briefly before bringing up the future. “What I’ve discovered is that he’s a remarkable man – he loves the Lord, his family and his country,” Hammons said. “The quality I’ve come to most admire in him is that he’s always thinking about tomorrow. He’ll ask, ‘How can we make HBU better?’ This project is appropriate to his worldview. This building is about the past, but it’s also about tomorrow. On college campuses, we have seen young people tearing down monuments. Here, we want to build something. We want students to take classes in the setting where the Founding Fathers sat. We envision college students, schoolchildren, teachers, lawyers, businessmen and women, educators and others coming to learn here for a long time.”
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the birthplace of the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were both debated and signed inside this building.
• Construction on the building started in 1732. Built to be the Pennsylvania State House, the building originally housed all three branches of Pennsylvania’s colonial government.
• Built in Georgian architecture, Independence Hall has become nothing less than the cradle of our republic.
• The Pennsylvania legislature loaned their assembly room out for the meetings of the Second Continental Congress, and later, the Constitutional Convention.
• Here, George Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775.
• Both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were formed inside the structure.
• The universal principles of freedom and democracy espoused in the founding documents laid a foundation for our great nation.
• Independence Hall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About the Assembly Room
• Greats including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Patrick Henry, John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock walked its floors.
• The room became a symbol of the founding of the nation, displaying the Liberty Bell for a time and original paintings of the Founding Fathers.
• President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited the assembly room and lauded the ideals presented in the Declaration of Independence. Following his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in repose in the room.
*Independence Hall information is courtesy of the US National Park Service.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…Place of the signing of the declaration of independence
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America…
United States Constitution
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America…
Visit the Morris Family Center for Law & Liberty
The Morris Family Center for Law & Liberty is dedicated to the promotion of American founding principles, the rule of law, the preservation of liberty and free enterprise. Its mission is
1) to educate our fellow Texans about the principles that make America an exceptional nation;
2) to train and equip teachers, lawyers and the business community to articulate and defend these principles; and
3) to facilitate civil discourse among diverse groups about the political, social and economic implications of a nation truly committed to liberty and justice for all.