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The First Amendment & 2020 America

June 3, 2020

I had this post scheduled for another time and I wrote a few weeks ago but in the past week so much has changed! 2020 has been a year of whiplash and I often wonder how history will see us. History has a way of making complex issues “black and white” for the average audience and I think that idea of pure goodness or badness is dangerous. We use words “visionary” for Martin Luther King, Jr., we use the words “tyrant” for King George III, and we use the words “martyr” for Rodney King. Will Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez be our “visionary”*? Will Donald Trump be our “tyrant”? Will George Floyd be our “martyr”? Who knows how history will paint us in this time?

*I don’t love many of AOC’s viewpoints but I do think it’s possible, depending on how the future turns out, #climatechange, she might be painted as a visionary.


Every time Americans feel their “rights” are being infringed they seem to allude to the Constitution and leave it at that without indicating what aspect of the Constitution they’re talking about. I’m going to strongly assume they do not fully understand what is in this document let alone how it has been interpreted over time (hell, that’s why we have constitutional lawyers, it’s complicated!). I don’t blame them for not having it memorized, I mean after the Second Amendment it gets fuzzy to be honest, but I do blame them for invoking a document blankly whenever they’re told “no.”

And in this era of love in the time of coronavirus (any Gabriel Garcรญa Mรกrquez fans out there?) we have numerous examples of any people yelling “freedom” and “you’re infringing on my rights.” Now, that being said, the crazy protestors with AK-47s are a super duper tiny minority, the media in general has overblown their influence to make their stupidity seem more influential than it is. There are people, on both sides of the aisle, who are respecting social distancing while also eager to move forward in this period.

*Note: since writing this we now have the added protests that have erupted around the tragic death of George Floyd. FYI you can agree looting “isn’t the answer” (duh) and still sympathize with a community that has been systematically hunted and held back by racial undercurrents in America. All I’m saying is you can be sad the looting happened and still stand behind black and minority communities in America.

First Amendment

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.

Now if you were to read the part about freedom of exercise of religion point blank it seems like wow you can do anything alsong as you say “God told me to.” But that’s absolutely not true there are numerous instances that your “freedom of religion” can be limited and here are a few examples: male Sikhs of age wear a sword on their side, this obviously could be dangerous but how can you respect their first amendment rights and protect the public? In my Religious Worlds of New York Summer Institute we learned about a school who ruled a student could wear his sword if it was bolted in the sheath, thereby making it unusable. In the same way, schools compromise with Muslim students who want to perform their daily prayers. The Muslim prayers are very short (like 5 minutes) and, as long as the student is not doing a timed test, he/she could pop out and go to a space to pray. Now if [insert any religion] wants to perform prayers that take an excess amount of time or is disruptive to the students ability to be a student they could be denied their right. So “free exercise” of religion is not actually black and white.

In the same vein houses of worship being reasonably closed for public safety is not against the constitution, now if the government kept them closed and there was no pandemic that would be another thing. Now by the end of May I would argue we could start to open up houses of worship but I think social distancing should be required (i.e. masks, 6 feet, no communal activities, etc.) and then IF a house of worship is not abiding by these new temporary rules then they should be closed.

Read more:ย Jumma Service at Islamic Cultural Center of New York

Freedom of Speech, Norman Rockwell. 1943.

This amendment also covers the right freedom of speech and the press. However that does not mean you can knowingly lie, spread falsehood, incite violence, hate-speech, etc. So you cannot invoke your freedom of speech to scream out the n-word if you are mad, you cannot use an article that has no facts to spread damaging anti-vax fear, and not all “news” outlets are the same. Now that does not mean that everyone has to agree with the same things or blindly follow the latest online article or newspaper. But it should prevent the president (who is supposed to be a law abiding citizen) from lying on the pulpit. When originally written, the freedom of speech and the press was meant to those who wanted to speak out against their government, or people in power, and provide a legal protection so that they couldn’t be imprisoned/fired for their beliefs.

*Note: since first writing this Twitter has decided to finally stand up against false statements that Trump has made on their platform. Please be aware that Twitter would be over stepping IF they just censured all conservative voices but they are NOT overstepping if they place a warning or remove tweets that spread false information or things that incite violence especially from global leaders (on both the left AND right). But this is definitely an issue that continues to evolve. Is the internet just a disseminator of information and has more of a “buyer beware” attitude or do they have a role in managing speech on the platform? Be careful with your answer to this. . .

I would argue that the freedom of peaceful assembly does not include guns or looting and burning buildings. Call me crazy but taking a tool specifically made to cause harm does not count as peaceful in my book. Of course the retort to my gun comment is: “Well I need my gun to keep the peace in case someone else doesn’t.” So you walk into a situation, let’s say a protest, already assuming that violence will likely erupt by so you come armed to. . .shoot the police or other protestors? Really? Is that peaceful protesting? But personally, if you are wheeling an AK-47 and are arrested by the police because you are pointing your gun at them and yelling obscenities I’m going to think you had it coming. I am appalled that these violent protestors were allowed to storm their state capital and walk home freely. You KNOW that without a doubt if that protest was fully of masked, black young men they would be dead today.

Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the power of peaceful assembly. The American people grieved to see unarmed young black men and women viciously attacked by armed police. But the scary part about peaceful protest is that force that can be used against you, just because much of the Civil Rights was a “peaceful protest” does not mean thousands of young black lives did not die in violence. The peace was on the side of the protestors, not the police. Information is still coming out about the current protests and, sometimes riots, sparked by the death of George Floyd. I personally do not think most of the looters are part of the official protests; time will tell, but as of my typing this news is breaking that many of those arrested for looting were from out of state. Violent “protest” is not protected under the law nor should it be. But, as a human, I cannot be surprised that violence has erupted because in the past 400 years the African American community has been kidnapped, enslaved, beaten, lynched, torched, killed, raped, “emancipated”, marginalized, discriminated against, economically disadvantaged, and segregated. Damn, I’d probably throw some punches too.

*Note: peaceful is NOT the same as lawful. Conservatives and liberals alike agree that sometimes an unjust law has to be broken for change. Segregation was the law and the only way for the black community to fight it was by breaking the law. No one things the looting is helping to further the case for Black Lives Matter, but hey we’re having the conversation now aren’t we?

JMF

P.S. the Bill of Rights Institute has great information to educate yourself!

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