Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Free Speech? Depends On Who's Talking

The Supreme Court continued to chip away at rights guaranteed in the Constitution by ruling 5-4 against Joseph Frederick and his "Bong Hits for Jesus" banner. The high court had previously ruled that students in public schools do not have the same rights as adults, something I challenge anyone to find in the constitution, and yesterday's court ruling takes that sentiment a step further. (Washington Post: Court Limits Student Free-Speech Rights.)

The issue with the "Bong Hits" banner, which I admittedly do find offensive, has to do with its apparent promotion of illegal drug use. What the court ruling effectively does, however, is stifle free speech if that speech is being used to seemingly support what is currently an illegal activity. So while I do personally find the banner in question offensive, I find myself even more offended and downright outraged by the court's decision that further tramples on the first amendment. The ability to speak out against current laws, policies, and politics is at the very heart of the first amendment, however that is precisely the type of speech this court would have silenced.

The arguments for women's suffrage would have been stifled under this logic. So would abolitionist arguments since the Constitution made it illegal not to return slaves to their owners. Arguing against prohibition during the 1930s would have been stifled since that would have been perceived as promoting an illegal activity. The ramifications of this type of mindless erosion of our constitutional rights go far beyond the ability of a single student to display a banner that may or may not promote drug use.

According to Justices Alito and Kennedy in writing for the majority opinion, the court's decision pertains strictly to illegal drug use and provides no support for any restriction that goes to political or social issues. How, I wonder, does one separate a discussion on drug laws from political and social issues? Are they not one and the same?

Perhaps we need to be reminded of what the first amendment states:

"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."

The phrase "or abridging the freedom of speech" does not have any qualifiers. It makes no distinction between the legality of certain actions, political speech, religious speech, social speech, or talking about the weather. The point of the first amendment is simple. The government is not empowered to determine what We the People can state publicly. While the point of Mr. Frederick's banner is not entirely clear, his constitutional right to display that banner is clear.

Several years ago, I mailed each of the nine Supreme Court justices a copy of the US Constitution based on my belief that they had never read the document. Now that we have had a significant turnover in the makeup of the Court, it may be time to do so again. I'm convinced that this crop of justices has never seen nor read the Constitution either.

1 comment :

Silas Scarborough said...

Checks and balances....where are they. In one issue after the other, the Supreme Court makes law and everyone rolls over for it.

Apparently in this case, wearing a t-shirt is the same as using an illegal drug. The lunacy of it defies description.

Surely the Supreme Court has something better to do. The trouble is that I have no confidence that any of them would be able to rationally do it.

It's a sad thing when the political representation is so inept that we, from opposite sides of the spectrum, have equal contempt for their miscarriages of justice.