Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth! Now Say Whatever You Want

In my humble opinion, there is a short paragraph that is more important in this country than any other document we have ever written. More important than the Declaration of Independence (yes, I really do feel this way, but if you'd rather read that, I have it here), as important as the Constitution, and definitely more important than any new law we've come up with recently.

That paragraph is the First Amendment to the Constitution. The stuff of this paragraph was so important that the founding fathers felt it needed to go at the top of the Bill of Rights. Without this paragraph, I cannot blog, we cannot make an opinion for or against the government and its policies, we cannot protest, we cannot write a letter to the president or petition for a new law, and we cannot be a member of whatever religion we so choose.

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.

There are five parts to that, and they're not all "freedom of speech."
Part 1: Religion

Believe it or not, the founding fathers actually saw religion as the most important of the five freedoms mentioned. At the time, the history of the colonists wasn't far off, and the colonists had come to America searching for freedom to practice a religion other than The Church of England. What this has translated into is a freedom to practice whatever religion we so choose. This means that the LDS church was allowed to form itself (more on that on the 28th - gotta leave something for Pioneer Day), and the many people fleeing their homes for freedom from religious oppression had a place where they could find like-minded individuals.

Part 2: Freedom of speech

This is the most well known part of the First Amendment. Freedom of speech was established so that the people had the right to speak out against the government should they begin to act in a way contrary to the Constitution. This allows me to say in public "I think the president is an idiot" and I can get away with it. Is there something I can't get away with? Of course.

The most common example of speech that cannot be free is speech that endangers the lives of others. If you've ever taken civics here in the U.S., then you've undoubtedly heard the idea of "You can't yell 'FIRE' in a crowded room if there isn't a fire." Why? Because it puts all of those people in danger. They could all run for the nearest exit, and someone could wind up trampled. This also seems to include saying things deliberately designed to rile up a crowd into a riot. As long as the speech doesn't put anyone at risk, you have the right to say it.

Part 3: Freedom of the press

Warning: This is the most complicated section in the whole blog. Bear with me here.

The press is an interesting construct. Just like the U.S. government has a series of checks and balances, the press has a series of checks and balances too. These consist of three entities: The Press, The Government, and The People. The People vote on laws for the government to pass and provide safety and rights. The People also tell the press what they want to hear. This is why we have so many stories about reality television stars and celebrities.

The Government provides laws for the people that they may vote on, and protection for the people.

Here's where the press gets screwed.

The Government's job is also to provide specific sanctions on the press during times of war. These sanctions, sadly, are somewhat arbitrary and generally up to whatever administration is in charge at the moment to state. For the most part, the press is allowed to state information about what is happening in the war. They are not allowed to state plans for various attacks or show where troops are. This is kind of a "duh" thing, but sadly some people need reminding that the press reports on the past, not on the future. If they could do that, I think we'd have a whole other problem on our hands.

The Press' job is to tell the people what they ought to hear (whether or not people listen is the sad fact of news), and to act as a watchdog over the government. In recent years, the press has not been allowed to do either of these. Why? Well, that involves understanding that the press is no longer independent. The press is owned by business organizations who have their own agendas. Sometimes, those agendas involve not making various political parties look bad, and making sure that people are paying more attention to them and not their competitor.

Part 4: The right to peaceably assemble.

This means we can assemble in a large group and have something like The Rally to Restore Sanity or a political rally, or even a convention... so long as it doesn't become a riot. Should any one of these turn into a group of looting, raiding, crazy people, then it is no longer an assembly, but a riot. And as we all know, riots are illegal because people get hurt.

Part 5: Freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances

This is literally that. I can draw up a petition, get it signed, and send it off to Congress in order to enact or change a law. I can also petition the government to look over a law they had created. It, in essence, gives the people some say in what happens to the laws in this country.

I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have about our great First Amendment. Yes, I think this is the greatest thing our country has to offer. I think that because of it, we are allowed to be free, and we are also allowed to be free from governmental intrusions.

And for that, I thank the founding fathers. My hat goes off to you, men. Thank you.

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Help, The Stash is Attacking! When Yarn, Knitting and Growing Up Go Terribly Awry by Kimberly Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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