Monday, October 17, 2016

A Little Thing Called "The First Amendment" - Updated!

Do you know what week it will be from 10/17 - 10/23?  Hint - the title of this post might give a clue...
It's Free Speech Week.  All are encouraged to celebrate Free Speech in any number of ways. So Speak out!

I found out about FSW while researching this post - about a little something we call the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.  Do you know what your rights are?  Do you know there are threats to them?  We need to be aware of such challenges and stand together against them and for their continued exercise.

  To begin: a short reminder of the contents of this important text:

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.

Let's consider some recent developments regarding these Freedoms as well as some good resources.

One nice resource is the site of the Bill of Rights Institute.  They have plenty of resources and a great one is blurbs of critical Supreme Court Decisions for various Bill of Rights Issues.  However I find their site a bit hard to navigate.  And I didn't see any landmark Supreme Court cases for freedom of Religion.  However, here's a link to the Freedom of Speech, General section.  Good luck navigating!

Freedom of Religion  This is listed first.  It has been much in the news recently as concerns over Islamophobia have continued.  There are reports of armed groups opposing mosques.  That's just a very recent example.  Many news reports suggest Islamophobia is on the rise - both in the U. S. and elsewhere.  Mother Jones has an article speaking to the effect this is having on young students.

Let's remember that the fight for Religious Freedom isn't new.  Jefferson fought for the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.    We should all listen to the words of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: “All major religious traditions carry the same message: a message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment, self-discipline — all religious traditions,” he continued. 

Then let's stand together in ways small and large to support Religious Freedom.  Not too long ago I met a nice lady and she and another nice gal and I were chatting (I guess I must have been in a troublemaking mood as I mentioned I quit a mailing list because of the continuing Islamophobic posts. Her reaction was  ---- well they want to kill us.  I told her that some (like the Isis militants might, but not all Muslims were like that.  From the expression on her face when I said that it seemed to be a thought she hadn't considered.  Maybe, just maybe it opened her mind even a tiny bit.

Freedom of Speech  This is next on the list. Certainly one challenge we've noted is the reaction of some to protests started by Colin Kaerpernick to kneel, sit, stand, raise a fist, or otherwise during our National Anthem to protest the treatment of African-Americans.  Some of the comments go on about this being sooooo disrespectful, so un-American,  Participants have been punished or threatened.  Do these folks even stop to think that we were founded on protest and we are supposed to be about something called FREEDOM - including freedom of speech and expression?  Here's an interesting article from common dreams about the spread of protests.  Kudos to Mr. Sherman and the DeSoto, TX School Board for supporting the students' right to protest.   From the statement at the article:  "As an institution of learning, we are charged with preparing our students to become problems solvers and productive citizens; not to stifle their innovation or rejection of complacency. None of us have the right to infringe on the rights extended to our young people as American citizens."  Unfortunately, such support isn't universal.  

An interesting aspect of Freedom of Speech is a trend for online news outlets to stop having their own online comments but go to only social media comments.  I ran across this blog post from the National Coalition Against Censorship about NPR website doing exactly that (disclosure: - I used NPR News site as my home page for a while, but never registered to comment).   The major point made is that these platforms don't have the same legal obligations to the First Amendment and may also have content limitations.  And, I might add, what about those of us who refuse to go on facebook?

Freedom of the Press  This is mentioned third.  Many folks have made the point that this is crucial, for we need the press to hold decision makers accountable.  An egregious violation is taking place in ND where a filmmaker is facing years of jail time and journalist Amy Goodman may be also.  The excellent columnist Trevor Timm has a report.   From his column:  "How North Dakota did not immediately realize this was all a horrible mistake on their part is beyond reason. The only explanation seems to be that they want to silence First Amendment-protected speech and intimidate other journalists into not covering the protests"   See updates!

The Guardian has a "collaborative" opinion column of reflections on threats to journalism.  It is certainly worth reading.

The take aways here are: a) we should not take Freedom of the Press for granted; b) we need to support courageous journalists who are dong true journalism, and c) we need to find ways to support outlets so that real journalism can continue.

Freedom of Assembly This is mentioned fourth.  I've mentioned thismany times here about threats and challenges to protest and dissent. One recent one will be found here (more in a moment).  In related posts at that link, there's a link to a post about some chilling tactics used to dissuade protests.  Here is a fairly recent article  - note: "a crowd of roughly 100 demonstrators had marched from the police station to the scene of the shooting several blocks away, as a cordon of roughly 25 San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies stood nearby. The deputies wore riot helmets and held long wooden batons at port arms."   Doesn't anyone question if riot gear is needed for every protest? There have even been those who have called for protesters to be met with violence (yup, more than one - I think I'll channel Matlock here - 'jackass' has done that).  That is NOT what we should be about!

Now, back to those protests in Baton Rouge, LA, referenced in  my blog post above.  It seems a settlement is close in a lawsuit filed against the city.  I think that counts as progress.  Let's keep up the efforts, keep up the support and work to make sure this right continues to be honored.

Freedom to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances  This is fifth and the finale of the list.  My own take is that the danger here is that such calls for redress are hard to be heard due to the influence of large corporations, large donors, and other special interests. It's harder and harder now for  "We, the People" to be heard.  There seems to be plenty of talk of campaign finance reform, and even some of getting Citizens United and that other case overturned.  Haven't seen much action yet.  But we should keep eyes pealed for openings for change.  And I found an article that shows this isn't all national; sometimes it's local!  

Well, there you have it, dear readers.  I hope you have enjoyed this session on The First Amendment.

And remember, it's Free Speech Week, so:    SPEAK UP!

If you found this post of value, please comment and/or share!  Thanks!

P. S. Please forgive any typos I've misseed.  This was a LONG post and I'm tired.


When I first came online today I saw TWO notices of good news on my homepage.

1)The riot charges against Amy Goodman have been dropped! That is most welcome.  Still, there are other journalists facing charges in ND - including filmmaker Deia Schlosberg.  We must still support them.

2) The now former Gitmo detainee and author of Gitmo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, has been released and repatriated.

Let's keep the good news coming... 


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