Monday, June 6, 2011
Being Religious does not Remove Free Speech Rights
The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads,
“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.”
Back when the newly freed states were attempting to ratify the constitution, the delegates ran into a wall of opposition due to a lack of adequate guarantees for what are now known as civil liberties. What the Bill of Rights did was add those protections. On September 25, 1789 it was submitted to the states for ratification and adopted, after long and lively debate (including a few fistfights) adopted on December 15, 1791.
If you check out the Wikipedia article on the First Amendment, link, you will find several citations as to how debate, including lawsuits has shaped how the amendment is defined today. Does that mean the definition is correct? Not necessarily. Since the late 18th century the English language has not just evolved, it has mutated to the point where sentence structure, grammar and even the meaning of words needs to be understood in that era’s vernacular in order to know the real intent of the men who ratified and adopted our constitution. So let’s look at amendment number one, clause number one:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
This is the first part of the sentence. That’s right; the first amendment to the US Constitution is a single sentence, written in proper English grammar of the time. Many call it the “establishment clause” because of that word as regarding religion. Nowhere is any specific religion called out and nowhere does it specify where “the free exercise of” may or may not be carried out, yet today it not just considered improper, many consider given any type of religious speech in a government facility, whether it be indoors or out, criminal. I would like to see where in this clause exists any reason for such an interpretation.
Rather than a Bill of Rights, the series of amendments really should be called the List of Restrictions on Government Power. You have to remember, the framers of the constitution were the same men involved in agreeing to and signing the Declaration of Independence. They remembered vividly living under a very oppressive regime with its own state religion, the Church of England. The last thing desired was to have the state dictating what a worshiper did with regard to their religious practice, and yet that is where we are today. In essence, those who use the first amendment to tell someone, “You can’t do that, this is government property,” are saying they approved of what King George did back in the 1700’s.
It is very easy to poke fun at people who freely express their devotion, but it is also very wrong. Those who wish for a law to curtail peaceful religious express are also wishing for the constitution to be violated. Every school or university that has prohibited religious expression has violated this amendment, in spite of what some Supreme Court justices have written. Simply being a life time appointment to wear a black robe does not automatically make one infallible. Read the words. Where does it say that the government can restrict that form of expression in this clause? It does not. Rather, this clause restricts what Congress, the lawmaking body, can do. Also the government cannot prohibit someone, or any number of ones to freely express their religion, whatever it is, wherever they desire to do so, regardless of who is offended. Again, does this clause say anything else? No, it does not.
Now, further on within the body of the constitution, some limits were applied. They had to be to allow for a burgeoning growth in this country. These limits fall within the prevue of state law such as permits for building rental and so on. Those limits, as long as they did not tread on the First Amendment, were lawful and in many ways proper. Our problems as a nation began when political agendas became more important than the documents underlying our nation’s foundation.
Currently there is a debate over whether or not corporations should enjoy the same free speech rights as individuals. The only reason that debate has risen is because corporations tend to favor a pro-business form of government, which the Democrat Party is not. Surprisingly enough, most of the media outlets in favor of denying corporations free speech rights are in and of themselves corporations made up of individuals who shelter behind the free speech clause of the amendment. Not surprising is the fact that they cannot see the glaring hypocrisy in their stance.
What makes that debate germane to this column is that it also includes incorporated churches. Again, we have to go back to the words. Contrary to what some have said, corporate law did exist back in the 18th century. Our second President, John Adams practiced law and wrote extensively on it. He was also involved in the framing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If the men involved in the ratification of the Constitution had been concerned about the evils of granting corporations or churches free speech rights there would be mention of it.
By the way, it is the height of arrogance to assume that they had no idea how this country would evolve, or that they were less intelligent than we are today. If you are one who feels that way, attempt to pass the 8th grade achievement test for the 1800’s, link.
Many say that the United States of America is a Christian country. Sorry, even from the days of the pilgrims that was not exactly accurate. People forget the Indians. When the constitution was ratified, the wording of the establishment clause prohibited this country from having any state religion, regardless of deity even though many of the principles of Christianity are embedded within our law. It is as improper to declare this country Christian as it is to prohibit group prayer in the quad of the local high school. Simply because an individual, or group of individuals, or a corporation of individuals identifies with a religion they still retain the same free speech rights the nonreligious do. It’s in the Constitution.