Tuesday, June 7, 2011
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.”
The second clause in the First Amendment has no title like the Establishment Clause, but in spite of that, this short string of six words has garnered more print, debate and utter hostility than any other portion of our constitution.
“or abridging the freedom of speech,”
Again, we see that this is not specifically spelled out as a right, but as a restriction on what the government can impose upon its citizens. Again there is no specification as to where or when such free speech is to be exercised and there is no specification as to content. There is also no mention as to whether or not this applies to individuals, groups or even corporation. George Carlin’s prohibited television words are not mentioned and there is no difference specified in the differences of speech whether they be religious, political, romantic or inflammatory. The clause simply says that Congress cannot make a law that restricts free speech. Abridging means to restrict or prohibit. Therefore, every law that the United States Congress has proposed and/or enacted since December 15, 1791, has been done so in violation of this clause. link
Now some may bring up the old argument of the changing times and the need for the government to ensure security. Those points have merit for the purpose of debate, but they mean nothing in the face of original intent and the laws governing grammar. Because of the British Crown’s sedition laws, the framers of our constitution made sure that the newly formed congress could not become an imperialistic body. If they were brought forth in time to see how that body has metastasized, I imagine several members of congress would be challenged to a duel.
We have to remember, what someone says means nothing until those words are acted upon. If Van Jones were given a soap box so he could harangue the folks in the public square about the glories of communism, which would be his right to do so, he has every right to not be prohibited from speaking. He does not, however, have a right to expect anyone to stand there and listen. The clause says nothing about the audience of that speech. Nowhere in the constitution does that document mandate or even mention that an issuer of an opinion has to be heard. Listening, by extension contains the same personal freedom as speaking. The government and the speaker have no right to expect an attentive audience, except where the government is the audience. The men who wrote our constitution were not fools. When we get to that clause we will look into that part in more detail.
This all means that by extension every time some Washington functionary with an inflated sense of their own importance attempts to shut down speech or censor speech through some form of law, that law being used is wrong. Congress, the highest law-making entity in this country is forbidden from making such a law. However, the 10th amendment muddies these waters because in that amendment everything not specifically placed into the hands of Congress is left to the states. And that means that by a strict reading of the language in the first amendment, the states can restrict speech. This is why it is so important that we the people pay attention as to who we elect into government office. This is also why is it so important to pay attention to the lessons of history and to understand the principles under which we live.