Free Speech: What it means, What it doesn’t

August 31, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Posted in civil rights, God machine | Leave a comment
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Children of the Washington Public schools were today given an opportunity to see the original constitution of the United States in the State Dept.  February 13 1920.   (Library of Congress)

Children of the Washington Public schools were today given an opportunity to see the original constitution of the United States in the State Dept. February 13 1920. (Library of Congress)

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what is meant by the terms “free speech” and “First Amendment.”

The latest example of shocking ignorance about core rights and benefits laid out in the United States Constitution which should be easily recited and understood by any citizen capable of tying his or her shoes without accidentally tying the two shoes together comes from Florida where a young woman — and her ignorant father — complains of her suspension from school after she verbally assaulted a fellow student. The misguided young woman claims that she has a Constitutionally protected right to verbally assault a fellow student. In addition to her Constitutional claim, she insists she had good reason for the assault — the fellow student did not conform to her prescribed personal/cultural/social/ethnic/religious code of conduct and dress.

The conduct which so offended Miss Lawrence was (1) not standing for the pledge of allegiance and (2) the wearing of clothing commonly associated with women practicing Islam. She claims that the clothing issue was subsidiary to the inadequate demonstration of patriotism, but you will excuse me if I am disinclined to believe what she says. I have yet to read of any demands that Jewish men be banned from wearing a yarmulke or Catholics be forced to wash their face before leaving the church on Ash Wednesday. She is entitled to her opinions but that doesn’t mean anyone has to care or listen or conform.

I do not stand for or recite “the pledge.” I am offended by demands to prove my loyalty by reciting a ridiculous oath made offensive by inclusion of language which demands recognition of an entity known as “God,” an obvious violation of the “religion” clause of the First Amendment.

The gross (but, unfortunately, typical) misunderstanding of the First Amendment by the hyper-patriotic young woman and her father.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

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.

As you can see, the First Amendment is not just about “free speech.” It bars the government from interfering with citizens who gather and share information (“the press”). It bars the government from making laws enforcing particular religious belief or requiring anyone to have a particular — or any — religious belief. It protects our right to sit out on our stoop in the evening (“assembly”) and chat with our neighbors (“speech”). It protects our right to make angry phone calls to elected officials (“petition’).

The First Amendment is not blanket permission for any wanker to get up in someone else’s grill and be an ass. The First Amendment does not guarantee you an audience.

It’s beyond sad that those making the most noise about adherence to Constitutional principles seem to be the ones who are most ignorant about the rights and obligations set forth in our country’s most important founding documents.

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