A Quick Lesson on the First Amendment

Constitution-Print-C10314518It has come to my attention that there are thousands, if not millions, of people who claim to adhere to the words in the Constitution but really haven’t thought beyond what was written on the page. A great example would be the number of arm-chair Constitutional scholars who have come out of the woodwork since Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty was suspended from his hit A&E reality show. It’s been truly entertaining to see conservatives, who are known for believing that what is in the Constitution goes, say, with conviction that Phil Robertson’s right to free speech as dictated by the first amendment means that he is allowed to say whatever he would like:


“”I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive,” he said. “But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”” – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal


Slow down there, Governor. The first amendment isn’t being eradicated here by A&E wanting to distance themselves from the words of one of their stars. The first amendment is in place to ensure that the government is not able to infringe upon the religious beliefs and rights of others in a country built on the foundation of being able to practice one’s faith freely and without fear of government retribution. THAT is the true intention of the first amendment.


The first amendment states:


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.


Congress isn’t preventing Phil Robertson from being a bigot AND a Christian. In fact, go for it! Enjoy! You do you, is what I say. What is happening is that A&E a private company is saying that while he is free to say whatever he’d like they are not required by the law, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence  to give him the platform to do so. The first amendment doesn’t give carte blanche to say whatever you’d feel like saying and then everyone has accept it. In fact, here is a list of types of speech prohibited under the first amendment:


Libel: a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation.


Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.


Sedition: conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.


Hate speech: speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits

Not only can we not simply walk around flinging racial epithets or inciting violence but no media conglomerate is required to provide the megaphone to share these views.  By invoking the first amendment in every situation where one says exactly what they’re thinking and then faces repercussions, you are doing a disservice to the Constitution and the true need for the first amendment.

You can read Phil’s full interview with GQ here. And when you’re done can we please discuss his views on slavery? Because ZOMG.


Keep the conversation going with Heather Barmore at Poliogue: The Art of Political Dialogue, Twitter and Facebook.

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