The First Amendment

One of the greatest expressions of our rights is the First Amendment.  It gives us the ability to speak our minds, to assemble, to petition the government and free expression of religious ideas.

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 one of our most important rights and should be taken seriously.  Peaceful protests have led to huge social change in our country.  The protection of speech we find uncomfortable or offensive is protected specifically because we want the freedom to speak things we don’t find offensive or uncomfortable.

This right was enumerated because there was a restriction of rights under King George.  In England there is a long history of persecution of religious minorities because there was an official state religion.  People were killed because they held different religious beliefs.  Many of the early settlers came to what would become America. It is disheartening that we seem to have forgotten this and if you are not Christian many believe your right to religion is lesser; there is an unconscious, or conscious, bias towards “Christian Values” that is, for some reason, hard for people to see unless you are not Christian.

The right to petition the Government was specifically added because King George, and other monarchs, consistently and regularly ignored communication of grievances from their subjects.  One of the reasons for the Revolution was directly tied to the fact that the colonists had legitimate concerns that were not being addressed, and when they expressed this in writing, speeches, etc they were hindered or imprisoned for sharing their ideas.  When they gathered in groups or met to discuss their ideas they were forcefully prevented from doing so.  Ironically, this is not too different from protests today and how the police are regularly called out to prevent protests.

We need the freedom to speak.  We need a free press in order to know what our government is up to.  It is disheartening to see that our press is so worried about profit and not offending advertisers or political figures that they pull punches, don’t do the leg work necessary for a story and have become so partisan.  You can tell what news you are going to get, and the spin on it, based on the network you are watching.  Gone are the days of a free press and we need to get that back.  We need less propaganda and more news… but I digress.

Other countries have freedom of speech but America is generally the most free.  Any restriction of that speech, e.g. changing liable laws, will have far reaching and unintended (hopefully unintended) consequences.  In Britain they have a different take on liable laws and the result is there is less ability to call someone out on bullshit.  In Britain the burden of proof of the veracity of a statement lies with the defendant, not the plaintiff; the plaintiff only needs to show that their reputation was hurt.  This results in a chilling effect on freedom of speech and saying anything potentially harmful must be backed up with mountains of facts.  This has resulted in questionable practices in science, business, etc to continue because of a fear of lawsuits directed towards anyone that tries to point it out.  You need to figure out if your evidence is enough to convince a court and it becomes a huge gamble.  Many people aren’t up for the challenge.  Here is an example.

Since the subject of flag burning has come up, lets address that for a minute.  This is protected speech.  It has been ruled so by SCOTUS.  It is unambiguous that this is completely and totally legal, unless you are of course using the flag as tinder to set fire to a building, but then burning the flag isn’t the illegal part, arson is.  Threatening loss of citizenship or imprisonment for protected speech goes against EVERYTHING that the US was founded upon and it very disturbing coming from the President-elect.  I think that Penn & Teller summed it up nicely (BTW, its great to see in person).

We have rights.  We shouldn’t give them up.  It may appear, on the face of it, that it would be nicer to restrict what others say.  The problem is, how would you feel if it was your speech being restricted instead? In America, the ruling party can change and next time around you may not like the winner, but you want the ability to say so.  We do not want a world like 1984 where what you think and say is dictated to you.

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