Where Do Our Rights Begin and End?

In the United States, there is no shortage of controversy.  With those always comes the discussion of our rights as American citizens ranging from our freedom of speech to freedom of religion, right to a fair trial, our right to privacy (via the 9th Amendment), and even our right to own a gun.  Since we all have these same rights, where do those rights for you begin and end as compared to someone else?

Take our Second Amendment right to bear arms (or own a gun).  There are different interpretations of this particular amendment, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it applies to all citizens having this right.  And any time there is a mass shooting, we all dive in to the same talking points.  We may have the right to own a gun, but that right ends when it affects the safety of others.  For an example, you have a right to own a gun but not to go around shooting people with it.

With the NSA in the news these days, we talk about our right to privacy which is guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment according to previous Supreme Court rulings.  This also gets discussed when talking about red light cameras or cameras in public places like they do all over London.  We always make the claim that they violate our right to privacy.  Though we have this right, it does not extend beyond our personal space (i.e our homes, our cars, etc.).  When someone is out in a public space, they are surrendering their right to privacy.  It’s not just cameras attached to police departments, but anyone these days can be filming or taking pictures with their phones and posting it online for all to see.  There is no privacy violation as you are in a public space where anyone in that space can see you.

Now this does not mean the government can read your mail, tap your phones, etc.  We have a right to expect such things to be private.  Our mail comes in envelopes… email is placed in our email box.  Phone calls and text messages go to our private phones.  Again, though, we surrender our right to privacy on our side of any phone conversation if we are in public as anyone can hear us.

bill_of_rights

What about our First Amendment right to religion, speech, the press, and to assemble?  For this, I’m going to use the Duck Dynasty controversy which most of us are tired of hearing about.  The person in question does have the right to speak his mind regardless if its his religious beliefs or just personal ones.  Being a TV personality though, he has a much larger stature as compared to just someone sitting in a room full of people.  As with any TV or film actor/celebrity/personality, companies generally want to make sure they reach a broad audience so they have more viewers.  So they don’t want to alienate any particular group with such brash comments.  In any case, he does have the right to speak his mind and what he believes without retribution from the government or law enforcement, but it does not protect him from being terminated.  TV personalities and celebrities have to be very careful because they are more public than most of us and their words travel a lot farther.

I also give this as an example… you can’t just walk into work and starting yelling at your boss about what a horrible person he/she is, how horrible he/she is as a boss, how bad the company is, and how much you hate your job and think that your right to free speech is going to protect you.  Your boss at that point does have grounds to fire you.  Now this does not mean that if you were to have a Jewish boss, that he/she could fire you if you walked up and said, “Praise, Jesus, for He is King.”

Nothing sets off religious furor more than same-sex marriage.  Let’s be clear about this.  The First Amendment allows us the freedom to peacefully worship however we choose without government interference and does not establish an official religion for the nation.  No one has the right though to take their religious beliefs and impose them on other people that do not share in those beliefs.  One can state that they aren’t against same-sex marriage because of their religion, but they don’t have the right to impose that view on others that do not share it.

Anytime I hear a politician stating that they want to make the Bible the law of the nation, my brain screams that they can’t legally do that.  It would violate the First Amendment for those that don’t follow the Bible… or have different interpretations.  All politicians are supposed to uphold one key document… the US Constitution (state constitutions, as well, for state politicians).  Nothing, not even someone’s religion, can violate that document for it is the rule of law that all of society must abide by.

My point in all of this is that we do all share the same rights but those rights are self-inclusive.  They do not extend beyond us and our connection to the government.  So though our rights are protected, they do have a finite space.

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The Fourth Estate

Freedom Of The Press And National Security

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”  Thomas Jefferson~

During the course of this past week, I’ve watched the story unfold of the raid on the Associated Press (AP) by the Department of Justice.  The Justice Department obtained records for 20 different phone lines (both work and personal) from AP personnel.  Under the law, when it comes to a media entity, the Justice Department is to give the media organization advanced notice of a warrant or subpoena unless it is felt that doing so would jeopardize the investigation.  In this particular case, the AP was not given advanced noticed.  So what in particular was the Justice Department looking for?  They are investigating a leak in the department to the media.  The investigation started after the AP ran a story last May about a counter-terrorism investigation in Yemen.

media-buy-NS_NewsflashI’m not here to state that this is a scandal and that something illegal was done.  This is for investigators to seek out and for Congress to question.  Yes, we in the media have the right to question, as well.  But these answers, along with all the factual information, have yet to be released.  So it would be unwise to jump to any conclusions without all of the information that is needed to form an opinion on these instances.  Congress has told the Obama administration repeatedly that it needs to stop the leaks of information related to national security.  With the AP raid, however, Congress is not only calling into question its legality but also if the Justice Department went too far to stop the leaks.  During a recent appearance on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Eric Holder (who had recused himself from the leak investigation prior to the raid at the AP) said the leaks warranted a strong response from the federal government.  Some members of Congress, including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has said a media shield law would have been needed in this instance to prevent this from happening.  Such a law has been proposed but has been defeated in the past.  And as each congressman has stated this claim, they have not taken notice that in the particular piece of legislation, a national security investigation would have been exempt.  Since 9/11, the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have often made broad exceptions to the law in terms of national security.

“The free press is the mother of all our liberties and of our progress under liberty.”  Adlai E. Stevenson~

The Founding Fathers included within the First Amendment to the Constitution our right to freedom of the press.  As each branch of government was a check on the others, the press was given the freedom to check on all of them and to make those answer to the public.  State-run media only propagates the government’s actions to make the public believe such actions and laws are necessary.  The press of our new republic needed and required freedom from government censorship in order to keep the government in check rather than the people.  Without the ability to know information… without the ability to question our elected leaders… then democracy can’t survive or progress.  It will just deteriorate into despotism.  As stated in the Stevenson quote above, freedom of the press is essential to any democratic (or republican) form of government.  The final say should always lie with the people, and the people have the right to be informed.

The raid at the AP does seem excessive.  Surely, there were other ways to find out the necessary information.  One of the biggest assets with our press is the ability to speak anonymously.  Could people now fear that this is under threat?  That their cover could be blown?  Yes, we should not have leaks in regards to national security… unless there is wrongdoing.  However, could this raid have a trickle down effect that could keep people from talking on any range of subjects?  Without the ability to keep people’s identity secret, the press would have a difficult time doing its job.  In its quest to find a government leak, what else could the Justice Department uncover during its search of the phone records?  Wouldn’t that be classified under a privacy violation?  In regards to a government leak, this is not the media’s problem or responsibility.  This is the responsibility of the government to find it on its own end.  This does not mean that a journalist cannot be called in front of a grand jury if required to do so.  In Branzburg v. Hayes (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect a journalist the right to refuse a subpoena by a grand jury.  However, this is a particular individual and not a raid of an office and obtaining information from several different journalists… both work related and private.  Though the government did at least have a subpoena for the records, they still need to walk the fine line between national security and freedom of the press.  They need to remember that that particular burden falls on them and not upon us.  In the meantime, I shall continue to watch as this unfolds.  The freedom of the press is vital to our society, to our government, and to our nation.  We cannot allow it to be trampled on.

“To the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”  James Madison~

Church And State

Religious Liberty In North Carolina

Republican legislators in the state of North Carolina have recently proposed a bill that would allow the state to declare an official religion on the grounds that the First Amendment to the US Constitution doesn’t apply to the state since the states are sovereign within their own right.  In shorter form, they declare they are exempt from the Constitution and subsequent court rulings via the Tenth Amendment.  The text of the North Carolina bill is as follows: (official document)

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; […]”  The Founding Fathers established the First Amendment so that the citizens of the new nation would be able to worship freely without government intervention and to make sure that government and religion didn’t intermingle as they did in England (i.e. The Church of England).  However, that didn’t apply to the states.  As the amendment actually states, it’s Congress that can’t make any such laws.  It doesn’t mention the states.  Originally, this was interpreted to mean that only Congress could not pass such legislation and that individual states could do as they so chose to.  In fact, when the First Amendment was ratified, several states had already established an official religion.  All of these state religions would be disestablished by 1833.

Flag_of_North_Carolina.

In Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment had extended the reach of certain limitations on the federal government that were established in the First Amendment applied to state governments as well.  It became the legal precedent at this point that it wasn’t just Congress that couldn’t pass such laws, but the states couldn’t do so either.  However, it was Everson v. Board of Education (1947) that would transform the interpretation of the First Amendment.  In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was binding upon the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  In the Court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote the following:

“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 over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.'” 330 U.S. 1, 15-16.

So what about the Tenth Amendment as claimed by the legislators in North Carolina?  The amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  It is just as it states and has been interpreted.  States are sovereign and have certain rights delegated to them so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of the federal government set forth in the Constitution and its subsequent amendments.  This also applies to the personal rights that were established by the Bill of Rights.

signingdecWhen dealing with such topics as the freedom of religion, the overused quote about the separation of church and state comes into play.  However, the Constitution does not specifically use those words.  However, it is how the First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court starting with the Everson ruling.  In the majority opinion, Justice Black used the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote the words in reference to the First Amendment in 1802.  Jefferson, who was a Southerner and one of the biggest advocates for states’ rights, wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, “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 and State.”

The state legislators in North Carolina should possibly do a review of early American history and learn why the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, distrusted establishing official state religions.  Jefferson wrote to the Assembly of Virginia in 1779, “[That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time […]”  He would continue, “[T]hat to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own […]”  Jeffersonian Republicans were those that advocated for limited federal government and more for states’ rights, and yet here Thomas Jefferson himself is advocating that no government (federal or state) should have the right to declare an official religion, and that we should all be just as the First Amendment states… free to worship however we choose.  In looking back on how the interpretation of the First Amendment has changed through history, one must tend to lean toward the conclusion that the courts wouldn’t allow this bill in North Carolina (should it be passed) to be enforced on the grounds of the First Amendment.

SIDENOTE:
The North Carolina state constitution did prohibit anyone that didn’t believe in God from public office.  However, such bans were ruled unconstitutional in Turcaso v. Watkins (1961).

Don’t Say It

It’s my second entry in less than a week to rant on my home state of Missouri.  Once again, I find it absolutely incredible that our legislators would waste time with this particular issue when they complain that we aren’t creating jobs quickly enough.  Let’s put two and two together here.  This time, though, this issue is more near and dear to my heart, so I cannot afford to sit back quietly.  Not this time.  Something must be said… especially for those that have no voice.

The legislation in question is House Bill 2051 (HB2051… otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) and is sponsored by Representative Steve Cookson, with the backing of both the current Speaker, Steven Tilley and the Speaker-Elect, Tim Jones.  HB2051 has been referred to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, and isn’t on the calendar for the committee as of yet.  But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.  The legislation has to deal with the LGBT community… and even more importantly, it has to do with LGBT youth.  And at a time when LGBT suicides seem to be running rampant, this particular legislation does not help.  The text of it is short, but it reaches far beyond.

170.370. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.

My first question is how is this even legal?  How is it not a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution?  The government does not have the right to tell us what we can and cannot talk about, and it can’t make up laws that do.  What’s next?  Are they going to tell us what we can think about?  I could see a private school doing something of this nature, but for the public schools that are supported by taxpayer dollars… again, this cannot be even close to legal.  This is another case of the Republicans in the state of Missouri trying to demote part of its population to second-class citizens because they’re afraid of the “homosexual agenda.”  But this is a bunch of BS.  Legislation such as HB2051 is nothing short than a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach.  The Republicans in the state legislature believe that if the youth can’t talk about their homosexual tendencies/feelings, then they won’t give in to them.  They won’t be encouraged.  Unfortunately, the majority of the people that support legislation like this don’t know what they are talking about.  Someone either is or isn’t gay.  It doesn’t matter if it’s encouraged or not.  It is already something that is inside them.  No amount of legislation by the government (any government) will make that go away.  All it will end up doing is isolating a vital, productive, and creative part of our overall community.

Our youth will be the most adversely affected by such legislation as it is targeting them and the schools they go to.  Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs will be prohibited, and faculty and administrators will be forbidden to talk about anything dealing with sexual orientation… even if a student needs someone to talk to about it or even if a student is reporting a case of bullying.  Growing up, I was often teased throughout school.  Not for being gay but for basically being more of the nerdy type.  I know how it can make one feel.  Sometimes, I young person just needs someone to sit and listen… and to care.  And as we grow into young adults and starts dealing with more “adult-type” of situations, we need those people more and more.  We are often very careful about who we confide in, as well.  We want to make sure that it is a person that we can lean on.  For some, that particular person is a teacher.  And if this bill is put into law, that teacher won’t even be able to help even if he/she is the only person that kid or young adult feels like he/she can talk to.  It is just shameful.  And it hurts me to my core that our young people are made to feel more alone and more isolated at a time in their lives when they should be embraced and loved.

Missouri is not the first state to attempt a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  The state of Tennessee voted several times last year on a similar bill, but it drew national ridicule that even came from the state’s Republican Governor.  The Tennessee bill eventually failed… though the state is trying again this year with an identical bill.  And now the state of Missouri is trying.  Apparently, the dumbasses who thought this thing up didn’t think this through very much.  Are they trying to prove that they are more conservative that the Republicans in Tennessee?  Is there a special prize at the end for them?  Well maybe on that last one… re-election by the same crazy voters that allow them to do dumbass things like this.  Again, it’s these same Republican legislators that say that we have fallen behind in creating jobs… that new businesses and new people are not moving to the state.  Yet, they can’t seem to make the correlation that it’s stupid stuff like this that makes Missouri a less-desirable place to live.  People tend not to want to live in a state that is trying to revert itself back to the 1850s (or even the 1950s).  This is the 21st century, and again, the people in Jefferson City need to pull their head out of their asses long enough to actually see the real world.  I know it might seem scary to them at first, but it will subside.

The consequences of such a bill needs to be thought through.  We’re isolating our youth.  We are isolating a part of our community.  Is that really a wise thing to do.  Regardless of our religious beliefs (and yes, I am a Christian), no one deserves treatment like this.  The legislators in Missouri need to realize this first and foremost.  They do not have the right to tell us how to live our lives, nor do they have the right to tell us what type of people we should be.  We are all different and unique, and we should all be embraced.  Even though I have been quite harsh on the legislators in this entry, I am trying my best to go after their actions. Afterall, hate only begets more hate.  I don’t mind when people think differently, it’s just when they act upon those thoughts and try to make others feel inferior… or in this case, feel like second-class citizens and that something is wrong with them.  The LGBT youth are simply amazing, and I think quite brave for all they have to endure at such a young age.  The bullying must stop… not only within our schools but from our government, too.  And if want a state that attracts businesses and new people, then we must stop writing BS legislation like this that makes people believe that Missouri is an ass-backwards state.  Let us move forward.  Let us work together to build a state that embraces everyone instead of isolating.  And let us work together to teach our youth to be good citizens and to be proud of who they are.  I think the youth of our state could teach some of the Missouri legislators a few lessons.  Afterall, to love thy neighbor means to embrace and accept them.

“Homosexuality, is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”  Plato~

INFORMATION:
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 1-866-4-U-Trevor (1-866-488-7386).  You can also click on the link for The Trevor Project.

For those living in the state of Missouri wishing to contact their Representative regarding HB2051, please click Here for the directory.

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From The Shadows

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