Monday, November 10, 2008

The 1st Amendment

When a man swears on his life to protect a document, it is a good idea to have an idea of what that piece of paper is and what makes it worth his life. Whereas the Constitution itself defines the roles and responsibilities of the branches of government, it is the Bill of Rights which makes it important enough to protect with the lives of the Troops.

Bill of Rights
Amendment I
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.

Each Amendment in the Bill of Rights is important. Amongst other things, this one protects the right of the people to be wrong. It protects free speech, no matter its offensiveness. And it protects free speech in various environments, in protests, in news media, and in religion specifically.

Across our District we have many denominations of Christianity and we have a few of other religions. Each of us is guaranteed protection to practice our religion, our faith, & our beliefs without persecution, prosecution, or interference. This is limited only in that we do not have the right to harm others in those rights. We do not have the right to interfere in the rights of others to do the same.

With rights come responsibilities. We have the right to a free press and the press has the responsibility to wield their tremendous power justly. Journalists are the lawyers in the Court of Public Opinion and Editors are the Judges. They should conduct themselves with the same level of ethics in rules of evidence as is required of our court system.

Journalists put forth a case for or against our fellow citizens, for or against our employers, for or against our politicians. Editors have the responsibility to filter the words of their journalists of unprovable accusations. We, the people, are the jury that decides the public backlash for or against those that fail to live up to morals and values we expect of civilized society in America.

We are blessed in Middle Tennessee that we have journalists of greater ethics than do the larger papers. It seems the smaller the newspaper, the more ethical its staff. As readership has dwindled for the largest of papers, sensationalism and political activism has increased. Some well-known and previously respected newspapers have lost the public trust because they have become little more than gossip columns preaching a party.

With rights come responsibilities. We do not have the right to use our rights to trample the rights of others. The best example of this is the Westboro Gang. I do not call them by the name they claim because they do not act as Christians. They abuse the 1st Amendment to attack the rights of others in their time of grief.

This very week, the Westboro Gang has planned to disrupt the fair city of Huntsville in their time of mourning.

They do have a right to be wrong. They have a right to believe in their misguided hatred. They have a right to speak about their hatred. They have a right to their religion. They have a right to protest.

They do NOT have a right to interfere in the rights of others to practice religion. They do NOT have a right to spread their hatred without response from good citizens of our Nation. They do NOT have the right to disrupt church services of other and of funerals.

The question then is how do we respect the rights afforded All Americans without allowing some to trample the rights of others. The first line of defense must come from Our Citizens. Every form of hatred, including this one, can be combated with Free Speech. When good men and women stand up and demonstrate with their own speech that hate is not tolerated in their own names it has a positive effect.

But the Westboro Gang desire public attention more than anything else. Our media have to weigh the reward they give to the Westboro Gang for their negative actions versus the public's need and right to know. It is a difficult decision, or should be, for our editors, producers, and publishers.

Our Baptist churches have a right to seek legal counsel over the damage done to their good names by a group that does not reflect their values, but claims their name. That is a matter for the church leadership, their lawyers and the courts.

But how does this fall into role of government and our representatives? We must protect the rights of the 1st Amendment as well as demand the responsibilities. We must protect the rights of the victims of the Westboro Gang without squashing the rights of Americans to the 1st Amendment.

Most cities have specific requirements for permits to public gatherings. I would urge our municipal politicians and governments to apply these judiciously and fairly. We have laws that govern trespass and interference with funerals. When these laws are broken, our prosecutors should give the criminals a fair trial.

The 1st Amendment does not afford us the right to break laws in its name. A religious adherent does not have a 1st Amendment right to behead someone. A journalist does not have a right to break into a person's house. The leader of a protest does not have a right to incite a riot.

So, after reviewing the laws already on the books, we may need to implement legislation that protects the rights of Americans from the infringement of others. But this is a slippery path which can only be taken with great care. It must be based on protecting the rights of Americans, not only from the government, but also from abuse of other citizens.

It can not be such as has been proposed in the past. Free Speech cannot be stifled under "hate speech" laws. Non-offensive speech needs no protection. But our rights do not afford us the right to practice them on the property of others. Prudence and character mean that some words are voluntarily stricken from my usage, but that does not mean that I have the right to make it illegal for you to use.

Faith and belief mean that we each hold certain values and morals and that should not be infringed by those of other denominations or religions or lack thereof.

In the first amendment, we can also find a very Christian belief in the right to self-determination, the fundamental belief that every American should determine their own path to the after-life, that none can be forced to believe as do we, that none can be forced to the path we believe to lead to eternity.

In the first amendment, we find the right to be wrong and to let the world know that we are but we also find the right of others to tell us we are wrong.

Our Representatives in Government pledge to uphold the US Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. Our Troops pledge to protect the US Constitution with their lives, from all enemies, foreign & domestic. There is no time frame placed on these pledges. It does not expire.

Our Constitution provides most importantly for our ability to change our government, peaceably, every two years. It is time that we put people in office those who have protected it with their lives and will uphold it with their responsibilities.

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