Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No Thoughts. No Prayers.


No prayers.

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. (Autumn Parry/Daily Camera via AP)

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)


  1. No prayers?
    I remember when the school day began with a reading from the Bible, followed by a prayer and the pledge of allegiance to the flag. And I remember when the school day no longer began with those three things. It annoyed me, but it was beyond my ability to change it, so, like many other students, I settled for a silent prayer.

    No prayers?
    I remember when the astronauts said prayers from space and when, on Christmas Eve, they read to all of us back on Earth from the Bible. I remember the mini-commotion that caused and it annoyed me enough that I exercised my right to send a letter to the editor of the local newspaper defending the right of the astronauts to pray. In the end, no one ever managed to keep the astronauts from saying those prayers while they zipped through the great unknown in their little space capsules.

    No prayers?
    There were prayers outside elementary schools and black churches and Planned Parenthood clinics and the Navy Yard and the colleges and the night club and the World Trade Center. No law, no rule was able to stop them.

    I’m all for protecting the children, and stopping the bullies and the hate-mongers, but I’m dubious about the political wisdom (?) of restricting prayer as the way to go about this. I’m not a lawyer or a judge or a scholar learned in the interpretation of the Constitution. But the world is in a mess and it seems to me that a few prayers certainly wouldn't hurt a thing.

  2. Well put, Julia, and those pictures have me weeping at my desk.

    Joan, I think she might mean that prayers from our legislators are not what we need. What we need from them is serious gun control, banning of assault rifles, a change.

  3. Julia, your thoughts echo my own, only more articulately.
    Thoughts and prayers are all well and good, but from our leaders, we need more.

  4. "Thoughts and prayers" is a hollow sop, a coda meant to stop citizens from demanding actual, rather than verbal, action. It's a casually thrown softball lobbed to the crowd to distract from what is actually happening. And what is actually going on is more incitement to more violence, and a quiet but persistent move towards allowing even more of it, all while pretending to do exactly the opposite.

    In other words, it's a lie, and it's meant to twang our emotions in a way that manipulates us into believing it is in any way meaningful. But really, it doesn't mean a damn thing.

  5. You're exactly right. There has got to be some strong leadership show up soon to stop the madness over that other amendment.

  6. Thank you Julia. We needs no prayers, no moment of silence. As a lesbian and a mother and a grandmother of six, one of whom is of mixed race, I know we need to vote out the paid minions of the NRA and stop providing assault rifles to the bat sh*t crazies.

  7. I agree Joan, prayers are always welcome in my book.

    But more is needed to push back the surge of hate...

    Thanks Julia for reminding us that things can change.

  8. Beautifully said, Julia. The unsaid point, especially.

  9. Early June is perhaps my favorite time of the year--when summer has finally put cold weather behind us and the world seems primed for the joy of summertime. I've always felt this way. And so, I've been remembering another early June, when that promise of joy and peace was shattered by an assassin's bullet.

    I feel numb. I feel old. Too cynical to cry--because in this moment there seems to be no hope. When little children being mowed down in their classrooms can't move our elected officials to effect meaningful change--when one of their own being hit in the head with a bullet or paralyzed can't rally them to earnest, collected effort--when daily atrocities--how many mass murders this week alone?--can't motivate our government to come together and find a way out--what will it take? I barely have breath left to ask that question.

  10. We need thoughts and prayers AND something more. Those thoughts and prayers should inspire action.

  11. Julia's last paragraph really got to me. Our amendments are not inviolable, and unrestricted. We do need to change with the times. The fierce proponents of the Second Amendment need to recognize this.

  12. Thank you, Julia. Just thank you.

  13. Good to hear a lawyer in this subject. Thx, Julia. As a writer, I think the words, "thoughts and prayers" have become empty.

  14. Thanks, Julia, for so articulately expressing what I have been struggling with.

  15. Joan,

    Your comment is eloquent as always. I'm a full supporter of both thinking AND praying, and I believe both are good and necessary.

    The title - the theme, as it were - for this post came when I asked my beloved Smithie, who has been out and proud since the age of fifteen, if I could mention her when writing about Orlando.

    She said, "Just don't use the phrase, 'Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.' People always say that. But they never do anything." She's grown up with the monotonous drum beat of mass shootings in the news.

    This one hits too close to home for me. She's going to fly out to Texas to visit her girlfriend later this month. The two of them will go out for an evening of fun and dancing. And I will stay at home and be afraid.

  16. Julia,

    I know something needs to be done, I simply don't know what it is. Our police friends tell me that stricter gun laws won't make any difference because those who really want guns will always find a way to get them. [And the Sullivan Act in New York never seemed to stop the criminals from getting weapons.]

    I'd like to see something positive from the political folks, something meaningful rather than posturing and self-aggrandizing, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards, either. There must be an answer somewhere, but until we find it, the state of the world is pretty darned scary. And, despite what so many think, I will continue to pray for your daughter as well as those in precarious situations or in harm's way. Unfortunately, there are times that that is the only thing I can do . . . .

  17. Julia, right after I read your post today, I saw a headline along the lines of :'congressman refuses to join moment of silence.' He defended himself saying that this is no time to be silent--this is the time to speak out and to DO SOMETHING. I agree. 'Moments of silence' are all fuzzy-warm, showing empathy and humanizing the political actors--but we need more. We need more. And when my nephews--both driving--walk out our door--I pray every time for them to come home safely.

  18. Joan - big hugs. We agree here: I don't know what can be done either. But there are a lot of smart people out there, and if we empower them, I believe we can see some smart, creative, livesaving changes.

    Thank you for your prayers - I'm convinced the prayers of mothers have a sure place in the heart of God.

  19. Although I, too, am weary of the thoughts and prayers not resulting in any action, I do continue to pray for the victim's families and all those who responded so bravely. But, it does grow tiresome that our leaders offer up prayers and take no action to prevent such tragedies. Of course, any attempts by President Obama to curtail the sale and ownership of assault weapons has been met with the full force opposition of the NRA and the Republican leadership.

    There is simply no need for any private citizen to own an assault rifle. Those who hide behind the reason of hunting are obviously not ethical hunters. If you require an assault rifle to shoot a deer, you are a callous thrill seeker (insane type of thrill) who has no business hunting. My husband used to hunt deer, and he always said that if you couldn't bring the deer down with one shot, you shouldn't be hunting. These animals are not target practice. We always ate the meat from the deer, because that's the reason for hunting an animal.

    So, banning assault weapons just sounds reasonable, but then there's the NRA and all its money. I do still believe that we can get legislation through, because our country has a history of achieving the tough sells, of righting the egregious wrongs. But, it will take the effort of everyone who wants to see change. I do believe in prayer, but I also believe that God expects us to get up off of our duff and act. I have had some groups pointed out to me, such as "Moms Demand Action" and "Everytown for Gun Safety" that I plan to check out.

    Also, the example of what Australia has done with its ban on assault weapons is impressive and instructive. Granted that Australia doesn't have a Bill of Rights and its government is set up differently than ours, the results can't be ignored. In an article by John Howard, the prime minister of Australia in 1996 when a mass shooting demanded attention to assault weapons in the hands of private citizens. The article was written in 2013 in support of President Obama's gun legislation. Dare we go back and see how many mass shootings ago that was? The following excerpt is a telling one to me:
    "In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Law and Economics Review found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996. Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control."

  20. Growing up in the 50's and 60's, in the era of the nuclear bomb, pogroms in Eastern Europe, and propaganda in Cold War Russia, I was always proud to live in a country where one could largely walk down the street unafraid. That time has passed, not overnight, but in the way of the frog in a pot on the stove: so gradually that we haven't really noticed until it's unbearably dangerous.

    I was traveling around Europe for the past three weeks, alone, many times in massive crowds of people, in four different countries. But I felt safer there than I do right here in the United States, and that fact and realization sadden me to the core.

  21. No thoughts. No prayers. Thank you, Julia, for your wise and eloquent words. They have helped me as I struggle to understand the horrific event of last Sunday.

  22. "When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
    That nothing here is promised, not one day..."

    Thank you, Julia..

  23. Julia, the Smithie gets it. Along with all the other stuff, I'm Catholic and was a hospice nurse for a couple of decades. I also agree with prayer. But if prayer could get rid of guns and nut cases, we wouldn't have a problem with mass shootings. Better to write your members of Congresd and get gun control legislation passed. Or vote them out of their jobs. Can anyone tell I am pissed?

  24. Eloquently put. Things have to change. Too many lives have been lost, and there is no reason to let the NRA dictate laws as people die. Restrictions on guns are on a par with other laws made to allow us to coexist safely with other.
    Discussing pro and con articles on gun ownership with my students, I said I would not have a gun ever. One quipped that I'd be a good choice for robbery. "Sure," I agreed, "if you want to steal a truckload of books." They allowed that made me a not very good target. Later we lost a student who shot himself with his father's gun. We saved the ones who tried to end their problems by taking pills, but we lost that one. So much for having a gun to keep one's family safe. Holding loved ones safe and hoping for better days.

  25. It's easier to buy a gun than it is to buy Sudafed.

    My heart is heavy. But when nothing was done after those babies were killed in Newtown, CT, I fear there is no line in the sand.

  26. Julia, your thoughts echo my own, only more articulately.
    Thoughts and prayers are all well and good, but from our leaders, we need more.
    Jennifer Dominquez