Political Thoughts – This Election and the First Amendment

I have seen, and even been the recipient of, requests to discuss the issues of this election. While I believe the character of the candidates is of vital importance, I have already made my thoughts on that matter very clear. As such, I’ll be writing a series of essays explaining my thoughts about each of these issues. Let’s begin with what I consider to be the most important issue facing our nation.

The 1st Amendment

The 1st Amendment is, in my belief, the single most important passage within our Constitution. We grow as a people and as a society through debate and discourse, through the exchange of thoughts and ideas, through information and news, and through our moral codes and beliefs. But, the 1st Amendment is a dense one and covers quite a few important topics.

Religion

I’m not going to say it better than Thomas Jefferson already did:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties”

Free exercise of religion is important. We all need to be able to find our peace. To worship (or not) in a way that allows us to support and explore our personal beliefs. The Supreme Court, in Everson v. the Board of Education, upheld and strengthened Jefferson’s Wall, and ensured that the amendment applied to states as well as the Federal Government:

“The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another . . . in the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State’ . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”

There’s a fear among Evangelical and Protestant Christians that they are being attacked for their beliefs. That recent laws (specifically freedom of Marriage) infringe upon their rights to practice their religion. I could argue at length why this is not the case, but for the sake of being succinct, let me just say this: A prohibition against gay marriage is based entirely in religious beliefs, and as such, violates the tenet that no law shall aid one religion or prefer one religion to another.

Beyond that, from a moral standpoint, the idea that a loving couple of appropriate age could be banned from the happiness of marriage is incredibly sad. Love is the most basic and essential of human emotions and we have no place to legislate away the expression of that love solely on religious grounds.

There have been Christian groups that try to make the argument that a family with two fathers or mothers is damaging to the children in those families. I have two rebuttals to that point: First, data shows that this is simply not the case.  Second, this idea presents a very slippery slope. What must be done in the case of a single parent? A widow or widower? Or maybe a family with no mom but two live in uncles (the Full House arrangement). When you begin legislating a “proper” family structure, you open up a door to micro-managing the logistics of every single family type.

Trump’s Stances

A number of Trump’s stances violate the word, if not just the spirit, of the Establishment clause. These include:

Trump believes that “same-sex marriage is an issue that should have been decided by the states.” This is clearly a violation of the Establishment clause, based on the ruling of Everson v the Board of Education that stated, in part “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another…”

Trump has also expressed that he wants to ban Muslims from entering the country. Again, this is a violation of the first amendment, as he would be prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Freedom of Speech and of the Press

Speech has power. Being able to vocalize our thoughts, ideas, and criticisms of the government is what makes America a free country. It is the mark of a fascist state that citizens cannot express free speech or that the press is under complete state control. Regulation of our free speech is a regulation of our thoughts and, as such, is something that cannot be tolerated by the people. And yes, I am aware that there are exceptions to the freedom of speech, but I am going to be talking only about speech that does not fall into the defined exceptions.

Trump has repeatedly shown himself to be critical of, if not outright against the freedom of speech. He encouraged violence against protestors at his rallies and even when they’d purchased their own tickets. He’s said things like “I’m going to continue to attack the press [if I'm president]”

Perhaps most troubling is when he said “We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

Since libel is already something people can sue over, it seems that he wants to open the laws to allow for lawsuits against any news piece critical of him. This is so troubling because it would essentially allow him to control the narrative of the press. If he can sue over every criticism, then soon the only press about him would be positive, or worse, press that he has expressly approved. Limiting our access to information, to new ideas, and to critical thought removes our ability to be informed voters and citizens.

And so…

Trump’s stances with regards to the 1st Amendment are completely incompatible with what I look for in a president. The vitriol with which he reacts to criticism makes me afraid of what he will do to prohibit and punish free thought. His stances on religious issues and discrimination against an entire religion (a religion with 2.5 million members in the U.S.) makes me afraid of what he will do to prohibit and punish free exercise of religion. In short, he makes me afraid of what will happen to our most basic and important freedoms.

Further Reading

The 1st Amendment is really important! Read more about it at http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/

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