Friday, March 9, 2012

The First Amendment

I've been doing a lot of thinking on this, the beginning of the Bill of Rights.

“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.”

It’s the first two parts of the amendment that have been getting the most press recently.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

People have forgotten the background of this.  Before this country was a country, England had one religion.  The Church of England.  Remember the Pilgrims?  They left the country because the state said they had to join the state church.  (Once they had their own colony, they then threw out people who didn’t believe as they did, like Anne Hutchinson.)

On a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, we visited the Colonial Capitol.  The piece of business that was being “debated” while we were there was the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  There too was the topic of freedom of religion discussed.  Before independence, only landowners that belonged to the Church of England could vote.  Catholics and other non-protestant types weren’t even allowed to live there.

Between the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and eventually the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, our right to freely practice religion has been stated.   But lately people are trying to twist historical fact to their own ends.  This was never a “Christian” country.  Religion had very little to do with it, except for the fact that most of the people were Christian.

Now we have people like Rick Santorium that wants to make the country more Christian by passing laws based on Christian beliefs.  Well, that’s all well and good, except for the very first line in the Bill of Rights, which was interperated to mean:

“In the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v.Grumet, 512 U.S. 687 (1994), Justice David Souter, writing for the majority, concluded that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion."

Since the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of law, the country is forced to follow those rules.  That means, Mr. Santorum, that if we pass Christian Laws, we also must pass those darn Muslim Shira Laws, and Judaic Laws.  You can’t have it both ways.

“…or abridging the freedom of speech…”

This Is best expressed, these days, by Rush Limbaugh.  What he’s said recently is awful.  It’s vulgar (on par with Howard Stern, another guy who grates on Freedom of Speech).  But it’s legal.  He’s allowed to say that crap.  We’re also allowed to say that we think he’s full of shit.  His sponsors are also free to decide that they think he’s gone too far and leave.

I don’t have anything much more to say on this today.  I’m going to have the fictional President Andrew Shepard say it for me:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free"

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