Thoughts on the First Amendment

October 19, 2019 • by Jeff Haggit, Chairman, Constitution Party of Wyoming

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1789.

The First Amendment deals with five points, the first two being connected by religion. I’m going to jump past those this time and talk about point three, because this right is being attacked.

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.” What this means today is, government may not jail, fine or impose civil liability on people or organizations based on what they write or say, exceptional circumstances notwithstanding.

If the freedom of speech is a “natural right,” then did we need to establish it as a right? The Founders often referred to rights as natural rights we are born with, which do not proceed from government. Sometimes they expressed rights in the form of duty. It is the duty of government — and the very reason why governments are instituted among men — to protect these rights.   

To dig down and give this subject the attention it deserves would take too long for the Chairman’s Corner and put at risk the readers’ short time available to it, so I will just hit some important notes.

At the risk of stating the obvious — I’ve been called Captain Obvious by others, including my lovely bride — our freedom of speech is under full frontal, in-your-face attack, even from corporations like Google and most of the digital media platforms. They use carefully-crafted algorithms to silence opposing viewpoints and stymie websites that conflict with their often surreptitious agenda.

But the courts have ruled the First Amendment restrains only the government, and does not protect a speaker against private employers, private colleges or private landowners. Further, they’ve ruled that mayors, chiefs of police and others in charge of, or who have influence over, keeping the peace in the “public square” have a duty to ensure those who wish to exercise this right, to do so safely.

The big tech companies have asserted as their defense that they are private companies which provide a public forum, and have therefore the right to do as they please. Free speech advocates opine that they are akin to a public square and, in effect, are essential to a normal lifestyle. As a comparison, what if public utilities denied water and electricity to people they deemed political “heretics?”

There is a free speech coalition currently at work that calls itself Stop Bit Burning. It is part of an effort to turn the tide against the draconian censorship that has dramatically impacted independent voices on every social media platform. Their goal is to restore free speech on the Internet.

Dustin Nemus is spearheading the effort for Stop Bit Burning.

“If we don’t unite now,” Nemus asserts, “we will be snuffed out one by one until the only voices you hear are fake news.”

George Washington told his army officers in the Newburg Address of March 15, 1783, “For if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that they can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

If you don’t know your rights, you can’t defend them. Knowledge is power. Thank you for your time.

You can contact Jeff via email HERE.

Examining the Bill of Rights

by Jeff Haggit, Chairman, Constitution Party of Wyoming

In a series of articles over the next several months, I would like to accomplish a couple of things. One is to take apart each of the first 10 amendments and give it a brief and hopefully interesting history, and then explain how it relates to current events, court cases and more.

Some of the amendments are too lengthy to digest in one article, so they will be broken up point by point. An example of this would be the first amendment, which lists five protected rights. 

Let’s start with an overview of the Bill of Rights.

As a historical aside, the English Bill of Rights, approved by William and Mary at the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, can be looked upon as a forerunner to the American Bill of Rights. Several states would not ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights, or at least without a promise of one.

Hence, George Washington and others invited the holdouts to make suggestions. Ultimately, a laundry list of 189 amendments were suggested and submitted to Congress, which narrowed it down to 12. The states narrowed the list further to 10, all of which were ratified effective Dec. 15, 1791. The two that didn’t make the cut dealt with Congressional representation and Congressional pay. The brilliance of the final Bill of Rights is they were able to protect so many rights in just these 10.

Perhaps a little clarification is in order regarding the Bill of Rights. First, the Bill of Rights is not a declaration of rights as much as it is a proclamation of prohibitions on the federal government. If one looks up “rights” in a search engine, they will find all kinds of explanations and definitions, but the unalienable rights spoken about in the Declaration of Independence come from our creator, not from government — and those rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are also natural and inherent.

That wraps up the introduction to this journey on the first 10 amendments to our Constitution. Check back soon as we explore the first right listed in the First Amendment, concerning religion.

You can contact Jeff via email HERE.

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