Friday, March 13, 2015

Ya know, maybe we just need to trim a little fat from the Constitution

That First Amendment has always been a bit of a pain.  Or, at least that's the way I am reading Kent Greenfield's argument in the Atlantic:

We are told the First Amendment protects the odious because we cannot trust the government to make choices about content on our behalf. That protections of speech will inevitably be overinclusive. But that this is a cost we must bear. If we start punishing speech, advocates argue, then we will slide down the slippery slope to tyranny.
If that is what the First Amendment means, then we have a problem greater than bigoted frat boys. The problem would be the First Amendment.

I just have to wonder if Mr. Greenfield was quite this nuanced when people were complaining about using public funds to display the Piss Christ? How about when Tea Partiers were verbally attacked.  When Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning was releasing documents to Wikileaks?  I have a feeling that in all those cases the answer was no, in those cases he was probably a First Amendment absolutist.

I, myself, try to err on the side of allowing the speech.  I may not agree with you and therefore may ignore or ridicule you but short of you exhorting a crowd to riot or releasing legitimate national secrets I am going to be on the side of letting you have your say. 

Sometimes that's a hard stance to maintain.  For example, for a very long time I felt like the Supreme Court decision protecting the burning of the flag was wrong, but as I though about it I realized that a flag is just a piece of cloth.  It's just a symbol and for the First Amendment to have meaning sometimes you have to let that symbol burn.  That is exactly what the founders were trying to protect, that right to call for radical change.  I may not agree with the people proposing the change or with what they are proposing, but I strongly believe in their right to do so, and the Government should not be the arbiter of that.

(For the record I think the chanters were idiots and should probably get their asses beat, but that is entirely separate from the First Amendment question.)


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