First Amendment Follies

I’m a big fan of the First Amendment.  You know the one — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition the government.   The Founders were admittedly fairly intelligent gentleman, but putting all of these together . . . were they short of paper?  Guns get an amendment all their own, but the right to dance naked under a full moon in homage to the god of grapevines doesn’t seem all that closely connected to writing a letter to your senator.   (Or does it . .  . ?)

Free speech, in all of its assemblying, praying, and petitioning forms, was a stroke of genius on the part of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams,  And putting it FIRST . . . pure brilliance.

But, our freedom of speech has its limits.  We know you can’t scream “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater.  Making reference to the bomb in your shoe at Laguardia would probably not be advised either.  And for goodness’ sake, don’t threaten the life of the President unless you want Secret Service agents camping on your lawn.

Generally speaking, however, we can say whatever it is we want.  We can claim the sky is orange.  We can start a website which offers ample scientific “proof” that the world is flat.  We can advertise that we make you a bejillionaire from the comfort of your own home (for just three monthly payments of $49.99).

The problem really isn’t in what we say; the problem is that a certain number of people will actually believe us.

This is the first law of politics.  The economy needs a boost and you want to loosen the regulatory grip on the military-industrial complex?  No problem.  Just claim that an arch-enemy has weapons of mass destruction and worry about evidence later.

Always hang the (insert one: economy, war, tax burden, environment, etc.) on whoever is in office regardless of any facts which may point to someone else bearing some of the responsibility.  (Second law of politics — You must build a strong immunity to facts.)

Need a scapegoat to divert attention away from doing what you know no one will like?  Piece of cake.  Just grossly exaggerate the impact of (insert one: immigrants, gays, Muslims non-Christians, the other political party’s platform, etc.) on the Amurican way of life.

Don’t concern yourself with accuracy.  A considerable percentage of the population will believe the sky is orange if you just tell them with a smile and the Capitol steps as your backdrop.

This is the way of American politics, and I accept it as such.  It’s part of what makes the whole thing so damn interesting.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t pay attention at all if Sarah Palin was required to speak only the truth.

But, now perhaps we see the reason for jamming all those things into the First Amendment.   What is said and what is believed have such an inextricable relationship.   The preacher must have the congregants.  The politician must have the constituents.

Those constituents just need to remember the petitioning part of the Amendment.  We don’t have to believe what you say.  We can question and snarl and even mock.   We can walk away from your political altar unrepentant.

Most importantly, we can see for ourselves.  The sky is blue.

Fighting the Good Fight

All right, I know I haven’t blogged in, like, forever.  Hey, school’s out for summer.  And besides, it’s too damn easy to throw a quick observation onto Facebook.  But this past week has offered the perfect opportunity for me to get a good rant on.

I’ve been inundated with Jesus freaks this week.  The weather report in Mt. Juliet:  It’s raining Christians (Hallelujah).

Item 1:  Wednesday afternoon.  I was coming out of Target.  Two middle-aged men wearing golf casual clothing and looking incredibly Republican approached me.  One held out a pamphlet and said, “I’d like to give you some information about a local church.”  I started to reach out my hand (a natural impulse when someone hands you something), but then held it up in an Indian “How” posture.  “No, thanks,” I said, smiled and kept walking.

Item 2:  Friday morning.  I was sitting at my desk working when the dogs started barking their fool heads off and somewhere in the midst of all the growling I heard the doorbell ring.  I answered the door (still in my pajamas, mind you) to two people who I KNEW, before they even opened their mouth, were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They tried to make small talk about my dogs.  You know, door-to-door saleman rule #1: Get them to like you.  Finally I said, “What can I help you with?”  The woman held out a pamphlet.  (Apparently, no one is getting into heaven unless they have a pamphlet.)   I read the headline as she spoke.  It said, “Will you survive the end of the world?”  Since there could have been a slight chance they were environmentalists, I let her speak for a few sentences until her motive became clear.  At her next breath, I interrupted her.  “I don’t proselytize my religion, and I would appreciate it if you gave me the same respect.”   They smiled, said okay, and left.  I think maybe they were pretty used to this response.

Item 3:  Thursday afternoon.  I pick up The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, our local free weekly newspaper, from the end of the driveway and bring it in to my desk.  On the cover is a blurb which says, “Calling all clergy: The City of MJ needs You (Page 5).”   I was intrigued.  On page five I learned that the city leaders of my little burg were holding a “special city update brief for leaders of all Mt. Juliet churches.”   It was announced that this update would include information on police activities, infrastructure work, finances, and economic development, among other local issues.  The Mt. Juliet City Manager, Randy Robertson, was quoted saying the reason for this meeting was that “these men and women touch and influence the fabric of our city.”

Of course, I fired off a letter to the editor of the Chronicle jumping up and down about the First Amendment and the Jeffersonian principle of separation of church and state.    I argued that this kind of “exclusive” offered to church leaders in a city with an overwhelming preponderance of protestant Christian churches was a de facto “estalishment of religion.”  I wondered in print why the city leaders couldn’t simply hold a town hall meeting open to ALL citizens interested in local politics.   I reminded city leaders that there were indeed those of different religions or even no religion who also constituted the “fabric of our city.”

Now, all we have to do is wait and see if they print it.  Publication of such a letter in this neck of the woods is certainly not a given.

(Sigh.)  I really want to like Christians.  But, they don’t make it easy sometimes.