Tuesday, September 7, 2010

One Last Time

Looks like I'm going to have to explain this again (not that anyone who needs to read this is reading, but, at this point, it's just cathartic to get it out).

This the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"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."

Pay attention to the first five words for a minute here.

"Congress shall make no law...."

Now, for reasons that I don't need to get into right now, this amendment has been interpreted as also applying to the States.  So what we're actually saying is:

"Congress [and each State] shall make no law...."

Think about this every time some dickhead says, "You're abridging my freedom of speech!" or "I have a First Amendment right to say this!"

Because the First Amendment protects your rights to speech (and religion, and assembly, and petition) against government action -- not against people shouting you down.

Example:  Dr. Laura gets a bunch of bad press after using the "N-word" on the air.  People say she should lose her job; threats of boycotts; whatever.  She then quits radio, saying, "The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what is on my mind."  Sarah Palin followed up on this with her tweet, "Dr.Laura:don't retreat...reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence'isn't American,not fair')."

I will set aside the fact that a woman who was a major party candidate for Vice President of the United States (and likely wants to make a run at the POTUS office) doesn't understand what the First Amendment is, and just point out where she and Dr. Laura both got it wrong.

Did Congress pass a law saying, "You can't say the N-word on the radio?"  Did the FCC try to impose a fine on her station because she said it?  Did a State she was in try to throw her in jail?

No, no, and no.

Conclusion:  Nobody messed with her First Amendment rights.  She said something a lot of people didn't like.  Those people voted with their voices, and perhaps threatened to vote with their wallets, letting Dr. Laura's sponsors know that they don't want a person spouting that sort of talk on the radio.  Result:  She's no longer on the radio.

That's exactly the way it's supposed to work, people.  Dr. Laura has a constitutional right to say whatever the hell she wants -- and not one federal or state authority tried to tell her otherwise.  She can keep on saying it.  But, she has no constitutional right to keep her radio show, and nobody is messing with her constitutional rights merely by threatening to boycott her advertisers if they don't cut her loose.  

With me?  Now take a look at the idiot Pastor Terry Jones who is planning "International Burn a Koran Day."  He says it's speech and he has a right to do it.

It is, and he probably does (there are some issues about complying with local fire ordinances, but that's not my point).  No State (or Federal) government is saying that (as long as he complies with reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions) he CAN'T do it.

Instead, what everyone is saying is that he SHOULDN'T.

In the case of Pastor Jones, they're trying to persuade him that doing it can endanger our troops and our interests abroad -- any video of Americans burning Korans will be an Al-Qaeda Recruitment Film.  Not to mention that it's just plain insulting to the zillions of moderate Muslims out there who, Pastor Jones admits, are not the target of his outrage.  

So, yes, Pastor Jones, you have a constitutional right to do this.  But that's just the start of the debate about whether you should, not the end of it.

Which is really my point here.  I'm sick of hearing people say, in response to critics, "I have a First Amendment right to do this," as though that should immediately shut the critics down.  It doesn't.  In fact, the critics have an equally strong First Amendment right to tell you to shut the fuck up -- not because you're violating state or federal law, but because you're doing something really stupid, with which they disagree.