First things First

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Amendment One – 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.

This is the grandaddy of them all, as Keith Jackson might have said in 1787. The Constitution proper outlines everything the citizen can expect his new central government to do; immediately following is a provision that broadly outlines the sorts of activities that a citizen can expect this government to protect and respect.

Note – not permit. There is no permission to be had. This is something a person can do merely by virtue of being a person. You have the right to worship as you please, and speak your mind, and print your ideas and distribute them, and gather with those of your own choosing, and you especially get to appeal to your new government when someone else forbids you any of those things – and especially if the new government is the one doing the forbidding.

That’s a lot to go over. All at once the State is made subordinate to the citizens – deriving their just powers from their consent, as you recall being quoted from the Declaration. Further, the will of the government as expressed in the law is not regarded as automatically superior to religious practice. The well-known “wall of separation” Jefferson referred to in his letters was not meant only to protect the State from any Church, but also the reverse. It was a guarantee that the government would not make laws interfering with the practices or particulars of any sect, nor to make one official over the others. (This reinforces the provision in Article VI of the Constitution proper that “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”)

Regardless of faith or lack thereof, we also have the inherent right to speak our mind. I’ve spoken a lot about this in other contexts, especially when it comes to those who, while not bound by the First Amendment, unwisely decide to use social pressures and other tools to make sure that those whose ideas they dislike are never given a hearing. Such things are perhaps a necessary consequence of liberty, since obliging somebody to sit and listen to me is just as bad as obliging me to shut up already. Nobody is forced to give a platform to anyone else. But the habit of silencing leads too easily to the loud demands that somebody in charge take it upon themselves to do the silencing for you; we’ve seen it repeatedly with mobs attacking a political rally in San Jose, state universities permitting protests to shout down or drive off disfavored speakers, and official punishment to those who invited those speakers (but none to the silencers).

This is a dangerous road, and a good enough reason for us to be wary when a large social platform selectively punishes only certain viewpoints.

Finally, we tiresome free peoples have every right to bug our elected officials about doing the jobs we’ve delegated to them, in the manner we direct. We can *peaceably* assemble to tell them so. In fact we can peaceably assemble to do most anything else, too – play disc golf, have a large choreographed dance number, play human chess, set a record for the largest cookie ever cooked in Kankakee County… you name it. And that doesn’t sit well with the gatekeeper personality…

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2 thoughts on “First things First

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