Is there a more misunderstood amendment to the Constitution than the First? In just this past weekend I heard mis-interpretations of pretty much every element of the amendment. Just to recap, here is what it says:
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.
One of the things that gets lost in the interpretation of this amendment is that "Congress" is applied not just to the House of Representatives and the Senate but to all levels of government--down to school boards and town boards and all public institutions. To the Founding Fathers "Congress" was an all-encompassing term for "Big Government". So that is why when former Labor Secretary Robert Reich defends his school, Cal-Berkley, allowing protesters to drive off Ann Coulter from speaking on campus, he is flat out wrong. "College campuses should not allow 'hate speech'" flies directly in the face of the very language of the amendment. Where in that passage does it say anything about "not having to hear viewpoints that run counter to your own?"
You will also note that people are allowed to assemble "peaceably". Protesters unhappy with Ann Coulter or Ben Shapiro or President Trump have every right to gather in their groups. But when their actions require bringing in riot police, or they are physically preventing others from getting to where they want to go--whether it be a college lecture hall or driving down an interstate--that right is no longer protected. (Does that legalize running people over that try to block traffic as a form of "protest"? I'm not so sure about that).
And even freedom of the press came under attack this weekend. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told the Sunday talk shows that they are looking to change libel laws to allow the President to sue news outlets that publish items he believes to be "false". We'd better double the size of the US court systems and the budget that the Government spends on legal expenses if that ever happens.
Also this weekend, the New York Times came under fire for publishing an opinion piece from a conservative commentator debunking alarm over global climate change. Social media was filled with people saying they had cancelled their subscriptions--and posting the on-line confirmations to prove it, after a spokesman for the paper said most people didn't actually follow through on those threats. What turned the "outrage" into the absurd was others taking screen shots of the cancellers posting on social media right after the election that they were getting NYT subscriptions to "support the right of the free press".
The Constitution is available on millions of websites. Let's familiarize ourselves with it before we go around claiming to have a "right" to this and a "right" to that.