Sunday, November 2, 2008

Express yourself? Not on your life! (yet another 1st amendment post)

Despite our theoretical protestations to the contrary, the First Amendment to the Constitution is pretty much a "Yeah, but."

Congress (and, through the 14th Amendment, the states), is not supposed to respect "an establishment of religion," but tell that to the House of Representatives' own chaplain.

Congress/the states shouldn't prohibit "the free exercise" of religion, but tell that to the people who want to establish a religious a public school.

Congress/the states shouldn't abridge "freedom of speech," but tell that to the person who wants to shout "fire" in a crowded theater. (A dissenting view.)

And freedom of the press? Not during wartime, and sometimes not during peacetime either.

That just leaves one more part of the amendment:

[Congress shall make no law...abridging] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In the modern day, there are three ways in which people can peaceably assemble and petition:

  • Physically. This is the method of assembly that was familiar to the writers of the Constitution.

  • Virtually. Virtual assembly/petition existed in the 18th century, but the technology used (letters) was nowhere near real-time. Today, of course, there are many more opportunities for virtual assembly/petition. Perhaps you're reading this post via FriendFeed or Twitter, and discussing it there. Or maybe you're in a chat room.

  • Financially. If you're going to petition the government, you'll probably need some gas money. For these and other reasons, persons often pool their financial resources together to advance a particular cause.
There are all sorts of directions in which I can take this post (including a description of those who feel that John McCain is an anti-American socialist because of his support of campaign finance reform), but I'll confine myself at present to the question of who can peacefully assemble and agitate - I mean, petition.

I've already looked at a couple of questions in this regard:
  • Do you have the right to peacefully assemble and petition something that occurs in a different part of the country? Did Northerners have the right to go to the South to champion, or to oppose, civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s? Do out-of-state people have the right to support, or to oppose, California's Proposition 8?

  • Do religious people have the right to peacefully assemble and petition at all? Do Catholics, or Mormons, or Lutherans, or Baptists, or Unitarians, or Muslims have the right to speak for or against candidates or other ballot measures?
These and other questions often end up with a "Yeah, but" response, often based upon our personal preferences. I'm going to list a few organizations, in alphabetical order; chances are that all of us would have qualms about allowing one ore more of these organizations to congregate in a physical, virtual, and/or financial way.

So, which of these organizations get your unqualified support for freedom of assembly (including political assembly)?

Alaskan Independence Party
American Family Association
Aztlan, La Voz de
California Teachers Association
Communist Party
Council on Foreign Relations
Democratic Party
Dow Chemical
Earth First!
Exxon Mobil
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS, the Warren Jeffs polygamous group)
Focus on the Family
Halliburton Corporation
Heritage Foundation
Jewish Defense League
Ku Klux Klan and related groups
Latter Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Microsoft Corporation
Monsanto Corporation
Muslim groups, various Sunni/Shiite
Nation of Islam
National Abortion Rights Action League
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
National Rifle Association
National Right to Life Political Action Committee
North American Man Boy Love Association
National Socialist Party and related parties
Open Society Institute (George Soros)
People for the American Way
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Proctor & Gamble
R. J. Reynolds
Recording Industry Association of America
Republican Party
Scientology, Church of and associated entities
Trinity Broadcasting Network
Unification Church
United Methodist Church
Westboro Baptist Church

And if you can honestly assert that all of these organizations should have unrestricted rights to peaceably assemble and petition...then you're a better person than I.

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