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First Amendment

Free Speech

This is the full text of the First Amendment of the American Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the First Amendment merely because it is the most important and most citizens’ activities in their daily lives are dependent on the protections specified here.  Let us take a common sense look at this handful of words.

 

We start with the first five words:  Congress shall make no law”.  The only way I see to interpret this phrase is this:   the national legislative body of the United States of America is absolutely forbidden from doing the things mentioned in this sentence, the First Amendment.

To continue the analysis: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  These sixteen words are the establishment of “Freedom of Religion”.  This really is an incredibly easy concept to grasp.  An ‘official’ religion CANNOT be instituted in the USA.  Any religion CANNOT be forbidden in the USA.  The American federal government CANNOT prevent someone from practicing their religion.  The caveat, of course, is: as long as that practice does no harm to another’s person or property.

The next portion, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”, is also brilliantly direct and simple.  Does it really have to be explained that this means that you may express your thoughts without fear of government harassment.  This protection has infinite common sense.  The government CANNOT constrain a citizen’s speech (or writings).  If you wish to say unkind things about your State governor (or any other official or private citizen) you should be able to do so without repercussions.  Just be able to back up accusations with verifiable facts.

The third freedom protected is done so thusly:  Congress shall make no law …  abridging the freedom of … the press.  This also should be blindingly straightforward.  It means those same legislators CANNOT interfere with the dissemination of information or opinion by anyone wishing to do so.  Again, common sense dictates that facts be verifiable and opinions be labeled as such.  With the discovery and development of technology, it is pure common sense that ‘the press’ has expanded to include radio transmissions, television broadcasting, cable signals and Internet connections.

And lastly, Congress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  In order for citizens to inform their representatives of their needs, wants and disapproval of governmental actions, it is imperative that the people be able to communicate to those representatives without fear of reprisal.  This is the epitome of common sense if we believe that the USA is a republic managed FOR the common benefit of the American citizens.  The citizens must be able to communicate with each other and government officials to resolve problems and correct misguided governmental actions.

 

The rights to ‘free speech,’ ‘free press,’ ‘peaceably to assemble,’ and ‘petition the Government for a redress of grievances’ enumerated in the First Amendment to the American Constitution are in the First Amendment because they are the most important of all rights of the people being governed in relating to their chosen representatives.  The framers of the Constitution certainly had a specific intent when they included the protections for citizens to speak their mind.  If citizens cannot speak freely, have access to unbiased true, factual news, gather peacefully and complain about and petition for the correction of conditions they oppose, then they are no better than oppressed subjects, slaves or chattel of the government.  ‘Free speech’ means citizens can speak their mind openly without penalty – at any time and in any place.  The full context of the Amendment includes the use of the spoken and written word and for individuals and groups to speak out against the government.  And though there is no way for those alive in the eighteenth century to have envisioned the technology available today, it is easy to extend the First Amendment rights to the electronic dissemination of voice, image and text.

 

The USA is a republic whose citizens are represented at the various government levels by individuals elected to serve the common good of the country.  How are these elected officials to know the will of the people if the citizens are prevented from communicating with government, the people’s employees?  I understand that high-profile governmental employees (for that is all the president and vice-president and other ‘officials’ really are) need to be protected.  But how can those chosen by the people know the people’s will if the people are prevented access and the officials are isolated.  Elected office holders at every level of government are representatives of those who chose them, so the people must be allowed to tell their representatives their preferences in how they wish to be governed and their approval of the laws to which their representatives would propose to subject them.

 

The signers of the Halifax Resolves, the Declaration of Independence and other such resolutions during the 1770s were seditious traitors to the British government.  Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, was a seditious document.  Treason is action to overthrow a government.  Sedition is discourse encouraging rebellion. 

Reasoned (or otherwise) disagreement with government regulations is NOT sedition or treason.  If disagreement with established law were seditious, treasonous or in any other way prohibited, the USA would still be a slave holding country, women could not vote and much else would not today exist. 

Criticism of the majority political party in Congress or the incumbent President is NOT libelous ‘hate speech’.  If opposition to the currently dominant party were banned, how could Roosevelt, Nixon, Reagan or 0bama ever have come to power?  There could only be one political party!  Hmm… let’s think… only one party in… China… the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics… North Korea… Cuba...

Peaceful petitioning of the government for redress of grievances is NOT terrorism.  The women’s suffrage movement and civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s would have resulted in thousands of executions if those involved had been declared terrorists in response to their dissent.

Is this essay a treasonous, seditious, ‘hateful’ or libelous act?  Some probably think so.

 

Theoretically, an elected office holder – at any government level – was chosen over her competition because more voters agreed with more of her positions on issues than with her competition’s stances.  The office holder is in the position for the sole purpose to represent their constituents.  When the representative (councilman, senator, mayor, whoever…) is presented with a new situation or a change in popular sentiment, how is that representative to know the will of the constituency if those are not allowed to speak in open forum?  How can the representative hear the voice of the people if the people are sitting in jail for speaking their opinions at a ‘town hall’ meeting or denied entrance to a venue because their beliefs differ from the official party line or discourse is confined to a remote ‘free speech zone’ miles from the debate or their website is shut down because their opinions are labeled ‘hateful’ though being merely opposite? 

[In college, though I had a valid admission ticket, I and a companion were denied access to a speech by Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew.  Why?  Because we did not look like the button-down other attendees?  Would our mere presence be that disruptive?]

 

The Patriot Act of 2001, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), SOPA, and other laws have put restrictions on speech and assembly near government official appearances, ‘Free Speech Zones’ and the like are all unconstitutional in that they clearly abridge the freedom of speech and inhibit the ability of the people to redress grievances.  It is claimed by some courts that the government may not restrict the content of speech but may restrict the time, place, and manner of speech.  How can any sane person think that “shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech” does not include time, place and manner?  Restricting time of speech is an abridgement.  Restricting place of speech is an abridgement.  Restricting manner of speech is an abridgement.

How is it possible that restricting assembly and speech to an empty construction site that resembles a concentration camp across town from a political convention allows redress of grievances?  How is it possible that restricting discourse to the middle of a desert (as in the 2014 Bundy Ranch confrontation near Bunkerville, Nevada) embodies free speech?  Preventing a citizen from attending a ‘town hall meeting’ or dragging him out for disagreeing with the official(s) present is an unconstitutional, immoral and tyrannical act.  It is abrogating his right to petition the government.  Congress shall make no law’ is a straightforward, easy concept to understand by any person with the common sense of a fence post and the slightest smidgeon of integrity.  Why is it that Congress, the Supreme Court and the Executive branch cannot understand this simple, powerful principle?

 

If a citizen observes a person breaking into a home, he has every right and duty to report the crime. The judicial system was established to use due process to punish that criminal.  If the government is the perpetrator of a crime, how is it different for a citizen, whether that person is a member of a law enforcement organization, otherwise an employee of some level of government, a journalist or just plain ‘man on the street’ who discovers the crime from reporting it so it can be punished?  The Constitution’s Preamble says “We the People”.  It does not say “We the Masters on behalf of the Peasants”.

 

Constitutions tend to be fairly direct documents and are the bedrock upon which all laws of a country are built.  American Presidents are required by the Constitution to swear that they “will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  All members of Congress are required to swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.  Federal judges must swear they “will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me … under the Constitution and laws of the United States.”  State and local officials are also required to swear an oath in which they promise they ”will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of …”.  Members of the military of the USA must pledge to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”.

The Constitution of the USA makes a clear statement in the First Amendment I quote in the first paragraph of this essay.  Yet Congress passes, the President signs into law and the courts uphold legislation that creates ‘free speech zones’, that enables the government to seize and hold, without trial, anyone they arbitrarily declare a ‘terrorist’, that makes it a crime to expose governmental misfeasance …  There is something seriously amiss.  Are American citizens so distracted, so ignorant, so apathetic that they do not see nor care that their most precious fundamental rights are being torn away from them?

 

We speak of the American right to ‘freedom of speech.’  What does ‘free speech’ mean to you or your neighbors with whom you might disagree?  Whatever happened to:  “I disagree with your idea, but I will defend to the death your right to speak it.”?

 

 

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