“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.”
The First Amendment to the Constitution quoted above is often bantered about by Americans—most often by those with a need to defend their actions, whether good or bad. It is of special interest to writers and publishers. The text of the Constitution and its Amendments is not as misunderstood as its context. The misunderstanding has to do with our distance from the inception of the document and our distance from the spirit of those who wrote it.
It is supposed by the less pugnacious Americans of the 21st Century that the rights secured by the Constitution are a grant from the government to its citizens (and anyone brash enough to steal across our borders). While this is certainly true of our British cousins and other republican governments, it is not true here.
The United States Constitution is a grant from the American people to their government. It outlines the rights and duties we the people give to our representatives. The Constitution is meant to protect the people from their government by limiting what it can do.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are granted to people by their Creator. James Madison explained that because “we the people” are not angels, we needed a government to protect us from enemies, foreign and domestic. As a corollary, because the people elected to serve in that government were not angels, the government needed to be limited by the people.
Free speech is not absolute. No one has the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. We do have the God-given right to form our own opinions and express them in the public forum without regard to who might be offended. Furthermore, the offended have no right to demand the offensive words be silenced.
I am sharing this tidbit as a reminder of from whence we have fallen. I recently witnessed two men having a private conversation. An eavesdropper took offense to what they were saying and an organization that claims to support 100% Americanism shut down the conversation. Several members pronounced the right of these two men to express themselves privately with one another as “bullshit”.
I feel compelled to share this because silence is tacit agreement. There is way too much silence in America today. Intolerance with certain views has become standard instruction in our institutes of learning and within portions of our government. Silence on the part of “we the people” cannot help but be interpreted as consent to being trampled under the heel of the government.