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Brutal Antipathy is a pseudonym for a blogger and forum debate enthusiast whose views often rest well outside of social baseline. A self confirmed atheist, misanthropist, and sadist, his commentary ranges from parched textbook facts to satire and sarcasm. He is a proponent of free speech and individual liberty even when these are taken to excess. His political views shift between lower case libertarian and enlightened despotism depending on the level of contempt he is feeling for his fellow humans at any given moment. His reading interests include history, general science, archaeology, comparative religion, psychology, & sociology. Other interests and hobbies include practicing various crafts, torturing his slave, blogging, playing with his dogs, collecting antiques, role playing & tactical simulation games, renaissance fairs, and cheerfully making other people miserable by holding up a mirror of their shortcomings and repeatedly bashing them in the face with it. L is the owned slave of BA. She basically has the same interests and views as her owner except in music.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quintuple Penetrating the First Amendment

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is perhaps the most used, abused, recited, and misunderstood piece of writing since the Holy Bible. It is the crutch of churches, secular groups, artists, authors, film makers, political groups, hate mongers, pornographers, and ordinary agenda-less citizens. Along with Amendments 2 through 10, aka the Bill of Rights, it forms the backbone of American liberty.

James Madison: 4th President, Federalist Douche, Reluctant Author of the Bill of Rights
While it should not be necessary to point this out, the Bill of Rights and all other amendments that follow it are all part of the Constitution. They were added after the initial draft was written, but when they go through the rigorous process of ratification, they become part of the Constitution.

For all its considerable value, it, along with various other amendments, has often been the subject of vigorous debate and interpretation. With all due respect, the founding fathers might have saved a little grief had they broken the First Amendment down into five separate Amendments; freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to voice grievances to the government.

The authors of the Constitution were intelligent and wise men, but they were not psychic. Knowing this and because of this, they created a government that allowed for change by further amending the Constitution. After 201 years of amending as necessity demands, the Constitution is still not perfect in representation of all Americans, nor will it ever manage that illustrious design. Still though, it is closer to perfection than any system that has come before it.

The Constitution falls short for two reasons. First, neither it nor any other form of representation can fill the needs of all people all the time. A group of eight or more people cannot unanimously decide on a choice of pizza toppings, let alone how government should work.

The second failure is that it cannot prevent people from attempting to exercise control of others. This is where interpretation comes in to play. Most humans, especially those that loudly profess otherwise, have a desire to exert their will upon others. Framed in a language that is two centuries old, the Bill of Rights nearly begs for manipulation through loose or incomplete interpretation as well as intentional misinterpretation. While the Second Amendment catches a fair share of this, it is the First Amendment that usually bears the brunt of it.

Today I intend to break the First Amendment down into five parts, and give each of them the attention they deserve. I think that when I am done, we will see that the First Amendment says considerably more than what its one long sentence seems to say.

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

On the surface, this section seems cut and dry. The federal government (congress) will not create, endorse, or favor a religion, nor will the federal government prevent citizens from practicing their religion.

As simple as this sounds, there are some deep ramifications to this. The first is that this is a two way street. Keeping the government out of religion also means keeping religion out of government. Think about it for a moment.  If a particular religion is allowed to influence the government, all other religions have the dogmas and beliefs of that one religion suddenly forced upon them. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment, and is why the 'wall of separation', a phrase that, while written by Thomas Jefferson, does not appear in the Constitution, is so important when reading this part of the First Amendment. The words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the constitution either. Nor do the words "right to privacy" or "right to a fair trial". Go ahead, check the constitution for those last two. I'll wait. Back so soon? Didn't find them, did you? This does not mean that all of these concepts are not implied. Absence of the specific words does not equal absence of the concepts.

While most Christians fail to see a problem with imposing their religion onto the constitution and thereby onto all American citizens, they need to realize that there are over 900 denominations of Christianity as well as innumerable nondenominational churches, none of which can agree on theological pizza toppings. The odds of your religion being the one doing the influence are slim. Do you really want the government, due to misinterpretation of the First Amendment, telling you that you must now all wear Mormon temple garments or observe Lent? Of course not! And the First Amendment protects you from that because, just as government does not encroach upon religion, religion does not encroach upon government.

The next misinterpretation is that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. Unfortunately for the pious would-be overlords, the First Amendment does grant freedom from religion. Like the outline above, if it did not, we would each be forced to adhere to Jewish dietary restrictions and Muslim dress codes. Because of the First Amendment, not only are we free to reject any particular religious belief, we are free to reject them all.  By right of the First Amendment, nobody can be compelled to follow the teachings of any particular religion, meaning that they are also free to follow the teachings of no religion whatsoever.

Yet another bad interpretation of the First Amendment is that we are granted the freedom of seeing religion in our society. We aren't. As citizens of America, individuals and privately owned businesses are free to express their religious beliefs openly and publicly. The only restrictions to this are within government institutions such as court houses, post offices, and public schools. And even then, individuals that are a part of these institutions still have the liberty to express their religious affiliations, to a degree at least. Students can wear crosses or pentacles, for example. This is because the First Amendment also provides us with the next subject, freedom of speech.

It also needs to be stressed that this amendment does not just apply to the federal government. At one point this were true, but thanks to the 14th Amendment, lower levels of government are also affected. Many people do not seem to understand that were this not the case, any state could also conduct unwarranted searches, disregard due process and self incrimination, deny trial by jury, and set bail at unreasonable amounts. The Bill of Rights and all civil liberty would only apply at a federal level with each state free to disregard those rights at will. It is obvious that these rights stand at state and municipal levels if you would think about it. But then again, most people don't bother with anything so trivial as thinking. 

or abridging the freedom of speech 

As short as this portion is, the implications are numerous and complex. As we can tell from the on again, off again treatment hard core pornography receives at the hands of the law, even the legal system cannot positively determine the limits of free speech. Legal precedent set forth in 1973 which is now commonly referred to as the Miller Test is sometimes employed by the courts in determining obscenity especially in regard to pornography. This test is criticized for its vague language such as 'reasonable persons', and because of the possibility of making limitations on free speech easier.

Attempts to curtail hate speech are traditionally overturned in court. but speech that may result in imminent lawless action such as yelling "Fire" in a theater does not warrant the protection of the First Amendment. Libel and Slander are likewise not protected by the First Amendment.

Past this point, things become blurry at best. Various religious and secular institutions have attempted to suppress free speech, with varying degrees of success. Notable examples of contemporary success in censorship include the Library of Congress's censoring of Wikileaks, and Scientology's censoring (and subsequent incarceration of) Keith Henson for his criticism of their religion.

As abused on one side as this right may be, other sides abuse it equally to their advantage. The Ku Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist Church are perfect examples of this, as both use the First Amendment and the vague wording of the freedom of speech portion of the Amendment to their advantage. No matter how disturbing, how insensitive, or how hateful their messages are, they are protected by the First Amendment. The reason for this is simple. None of us, not you, me, a minister, a mother, a Hispanic, a judge, or anyone else, has the right to not be offended.

One other area in which freedom of speech may be restricted is in the event of a captive audience that cannot avoid the objectionable speech. This includes picketing outside of residences and evangelizing in a stuck elevator or on a plane for instance. You have the right to free speech, but not the right to force others to listen to what you have to say.

I am a firm believer that the good outweighs the bad when it comes to freedom of speech. A purist interpretation and as much legal hands off as far as safety and respect for private property will allow is the best approach to preserving the spirit and integrity of our freedom of speech.
Fine Example of Freedom of the Press

or of the press; 

Virtually identical to freedom of speech as the two simply employ different mediums of communication, freedom of the press in written, audio, or video form allows the author or publisher to print content without regard to bias. This means that a conservative publication need not print a liberal counterpoint, or vise versa. Radio and television have somewhat different standards as there are only a limited number of frequencies available for broadcast. Due to this, the government licenses them out and retains some control over content.

Thanks to this part of the Amendment, we have televangelists, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, South Park, Mein Kamph, Lolita, Basic Instinct, A Clockwork Orange, The Passion of the Christ, Fanny Hill, Harry Potter, The Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Communist Manifesto, Fred Phelps, The Origin of Species, The Anarchist Cookbook, The Satanic Verses, and hundreds of thousands of other people and subject matters deemed controversial by someone.

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,

Peaceful & Witty Assembly in Action
Not only does this right allow you to associate with friends, attend parties, nightclubs, and sports events, it also allows you to stage rallies, protests, and pickets so long as you obey civil law while doing so. 

It is also often interpreted to mean you are allowed to join an association, though this interpretation has seen less than impartial treatment over the years. The court has upheld the Boy Scouts of America's refusal to allow bisexual or homosexual members.

and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  

Petitioning the Government
As boring as this part of the First Amendment sounds, it is essential to American civil liberty, as it is what makes us a representative democracy. It gives every American the ability to voice complaints and requests to all levels of government. However in 1984 the Supreme Court declared that government policymakers were not obliged to listen to or respond to the complaints of individuals.

In theory we should, as an ultimate recourse, be able to sue any level of the government. But once again we have been mostly denied this as the government can declare sovereign immunity and refuse to be sued save for some small, specific instances. At present, only municipal government is affected by this part of the First Amendment and therefore approachable for grievances.

It is disheartening to realize that this final and vital part of the First Amendment now only seems to apply to wealthy special interest groups that can afford to lobby effectively or otherwise buy the notice of politicians. 

This concludes the First Amendment. For all the abuse it has endured at the hands of government and special interest groups, it, along with other Amendments, composes the core of American life. It gives voice not only to that which we cherish, but also to that which we despise. It helps to grant equality in a natural world devoid of the concept. Perhaps most importantly, it grants us the ability to offend others. While often this is done for pure shock value, being offended sometimes challenges peoples preconceived notions and ideals. Every great once in a while it will even make them stop, think, and evaluate those cherished notions. If application of any of the rights granted by the First Amendment enlightens or expands the horizons of only one person in every generation, that in itself is enough to justify defending the First Amendment with every ounce of might that we possess.

In words falsely attributed to Voltaire, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. And in keeping with the tradition of the Supreme Court, I also reserve the right to ignore the impotent rantings of pathetic vermin that are so far beneath me that they dissolve into insignificance.

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