RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., March 31, 2014 – Repeal the First Amendment? “Radical,” you say? Given our ever-increasing tendency to ignore it, perhaps the suggestion is not that far-fetched.
After all, it’s not as if our legislators haven’t made mistakes in the past. Prohibition provides the most obvious example. The Eighteenth Amendment was passed on January 16, 1919, and repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment on December 5, 1933. In comparison, the First Amendment has had a much longer “run.”
The ban on alcohol was abandoned because too many people were ignoring it. Sadly enough, the same argument can be made with respect to our abuse of the First Amendment.
Think about it.
With respect to religion, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Do we honor those protections, or do we encourage selfish interpretations of them?
Congress has never attempted to pass a law that establishes a national religion. There has never been anything equivalent to the Church of England our Founding Fathers had experienced and were trying to avoid.
However, we seem inclined to trample upon the “free exercise” of religion. In our quest to be politically correct, we frequently engage in activities that favor one belief over another.
A cross, Star of David, Ay-yıldız, etc. on public property is considered to be “offensive” if it is displayed upon public property while it remains unsanctionable if it resides on private property. What if we were to assume that public property without any open presentation of religious symbols was a tacit endorsement of atheism by the Government? Since atheism is effectively an unsubstantiated “belief,” isn’t it just a different form of religion, albeit one that does not believe in the existence of God, Allah, etc.?
Then, we have the incongruity of exercising our religious freedom. One political viewpoint likes to ignore such rights by imposing its belief that faith should not be a consideration within the context of social issues. The other side of the political spectrum clings tightly to the freedom to exercise its faith but doesn’t want laws passed that would permit those whose faith differs to have the choice to exercise theirs as freely.
Let’s pray that we can resolve this dichotomy… or not.
Next, the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” The more fanatical members of our society seem to prefer to interpret this to mean that you have the right to express your opinion as long as it concurs with theirs.
Both political extremes attack each other with an embarrassing litany of derogatory names and terms. Racist, sexist, terrorist, homophobe, Islamaphobe, anti-Semite, anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, anti-middle class, etc. are among the more common personal assaults we hear levied against individuals to truncate free speech.
Wouldn’t we all be better served if civil and open debate were used to expose stupidity and prejudice rather than allowing an equal degree of stupidity and prejudice to be used to terminate the discussion?
However, our denigration of the concept of “freedom of speech” does not reside singularly among individuals. A degree of contributory negligence can be assigned to today’s media.
The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom… of the press.” Congress, for the most part, has complied.
However, an implicit responsibility is attached to this unique freedom; an expectation that such right be exercised with good judgment and generally without cumulative bias. With increasing regularity, our media has chosen to ignore such responsibility.
Profit has begun to prevail over principle within the traditional press almost to the degree it has interfered with our political system. Media outlets pander to those who pay the bills. They struggle to present the facts and to respect our ability to form our own opinions. Instead, they tell us what we must believe; spinning the particulars in a way that conforms to those of the political master they have chosen to serve.
Even the non-political news we receive has drifted heavily towards improving ratings rather than disseminating information. Stories are sensationalized and abhorrent behavior is glorified, yet we are surprised when tragic events are repeated. We fail to see the nexus between pathological behavior and the attention we give to those who demonstrate it.
Additionally, our press enthusiastically expands upon catastrophic incidents and provides every graphic detail possible. Then, it creates its own embellishments by trotting in “experts” whose tangential knowledge of the situation is so far removed as to render their opinions meaningless. However, this allows the media to exploit our fascination with scandal, other peoples’ misery, and drawing speculative conclusions without sufficient facts.
Perhaps we should peaceably assemble to discuss these issues and petition the Government to rectify them. After all, the First Amendment stipulates that “Congress shall make no law… abridging… the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Unfortunately, we often choose to ignore those freedoms as well.
The major Parties work hard to draw distinctions as to whom those freedoms should apply. No more interesting examples exist than those of the TEA Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.
Note that both of these organizations represent “movements” that call for fiscal responsibility. The TEA Party focuses on fiscal responsibility within the context of our Government, while Occupy Wall Street calls for the regulation of fraudulently exploitative behavior among certain facets of corporate America. Their goals have more in common than they have in differences. Yet, we are led to believe they are almost polar opposites.
Certain progressives, who “stand in solidarity with their Occupy brothers,” have routinely suggested that TEA Party members are uneducated racists and that the Party is akin to Nazis and every bit as hateful and violent. Correspondingly, certain conservatives have classified members of the Occupy movement as filthy, drug-crazed vagrants who commit random acts of rape and assault.
Of course, neither representation is remotely close to being true. However, they stir emotions and induce fear among the more extreme elements of the major Parties’ constituencies, and that translates into money and votes. Let’s ignore both groups’ rights to peaceably assemble in favor of exploiting the Parties’ “freedom of speech” to divide and conquer our Nation.
As for our ability “to petition the Government for a redress of grievance,” we surrendered that freedom long ago. Consider what we have allowed the Democratic and Republican Parties to do to our most basic form of redress: Elections.
The Parties control access to our political process at all levels (local, State, and Federal). They have erected enormous economic and petitioning barriers to entry that effectively preclude anything other than an infrequent challenge by an independent or third-party candidate. They have applied similar obstacles to the introduction of issues. As a result, ballot access is essentially denied to anyone or any issue that does not contribute to maintaining the duopoly that manipulates the rules.
For those who wish to point the blame at the industrial complex and certain high-net-worth individuals who greedily exert influence over the system, please recognize that the opportunity for such exploitation does not exist without a willing person or organization on the other end of the transaction. Also, keep in mind that those who benefit from the flow of money also draft the legislation that determines whether such interference is acceptable. This is the political equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.
It may seem ridiculous to suggest that we repeal the First Amendment. In fact, in a free society, it should. The concept should border upon being viewed as profane. Yet, the evidence suggests that many of us seemingly do not care.
When other rights are severely tested, when Government agencies are utilized to further political objectives, when States’ rights are casually circumvented, and when our pleas for transparency are met with redacted responses or simply just ignored, perhaps more Amendments than just the First have already been indirectly repealed. If you are disturbed by what is transpiring, here are a few suggestions: Speak up about it; write a letter to the editor; assemble with others of a similar mind; and contact your elected representatives to demand that the basic concepts of freedom be respected and restored… while you still have a prayer.
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).