|Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Sam Wolfe, special to Treasure Coast Newspapers)|
Instead, I want to talk about a Constitutional amendment. So important to freedom, so vital to liberty, it was placed first in the Bill of Rights. You all know it.
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 amendment defines us as Americans. We can speak in the open, or in private. We can speak in elementary schools and black churches and outside of Planned Parenthood clinics and at Department of Health holiday parties. We can speak at the Washington Navy Yard and at colleges in Virginia and California and we can speak at gay night clubs. No law can restrain the rights given to us by this amendment.
|Portland, Maine. (WGME)|
Except, of course, that it can.
The law of the United States protects children from this amendment. Child pornography is a felony. From the early days of broadcasting, censorship of violence, sex and obscenities protected children. Bullying, hate-inciting and threatening are forbidden in schools, punishable by suspension, expulsion and civil penalties.
The law of the United States protects individuals from harm from this amendment. Speech that credibly threatens someone, speech that incites imminent violence in public, speech designed to provoke a fight: all forbidden. Unlike other amendments, which leave the public open to anything and everything while protecting legislatures, courts and government buildings, the law around the First amendment shelters private citizens from severe emotional distress due to intentional or reckless speech, while making it much more difficult for public figures to make such claims.
|Fayetteville, Arkansas. (JT Wampler, Northeast Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)|
The law of the United States protects our commercial activities from this amendment. No one can take my writing - or any author's writing - slap another name on it and pass it off as their own speech. False claims in advertisements and misrepresentations by businesses can be punished. Bar associations rules of conduct and ethics legally enforce restrictions on attorneys' speech.
|Boulder, Colorado. (|
The law of the United States singles out groups and restricts their access to this amendment. Government employees, military members and prisoners have their free speech sharply limited. Protestors may be required to apply for permits to speak, speak only in designated areas, and have their speech filmed and their identities verified by law enforcement.
|Seattle, Washington (AP photo)|
So many restrictions on this vital amendment.
Yet somehow, we balance the concerns of safety, harm, the right of the individual and the rights of the community. It's neither simple nor easy: there are a century's worth of Supreme Court cases that thread the needle between access to this amendment and protection from this amendment.
Thoughts are covered by this amendment.
Prayers are covered by this amendment.
|San Francisco, California. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters)|
Political action is covered by this amendment, even though it's not specified as such. Of course it is. To say that amendments are inviolable, unrestrictable and need no interpretation is to ignore the long history of our culture and law. Our political actions are covered by this amendment as we head to the primaries this summer and the the polls this fall. What will we ask of our state and congressional representatives this year and next year and the next?
Or something more?
|(Victoria Pickering, Flickr, via Popville)|