Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sacredness, blasphemy, and the first amendment
All bloggers should know the first amendment by heart, but it doesn't hurt to review.
Amendment I
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.

Once again, Congress, having solved all of the serious problem in the country, has too much spare time on its hands. When ever that happens, they turn their attention to meaningless symbolic gestures and dangerous tinkering with the constitution. Or both.
The proposed one-line amendment to the Constitution reads, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." For the language to be added to the Constitution, it must be approved by two-thirds of those present in each chamber, then ratified within seven years by at least 38 state legislatures.

As Lambert pointed out last night, the key word in this is "desecration." Desecration is not just a vague word that would cause endless mischief in attempting to enforce such a provision, but its literal meaning describes "the act of depriving something of its sacred character," that is, blasphemy. To enforce such an amendment, Congress would have to write laws spelling out the limits of sacredness and blasphemy.

Let's go back and see what that does to my favorite amendment.
  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof... - In defining even one instance of sacredness or blasphemy, they are starting work their way into the religion business. And they aren't entering this business in a free market sort of way; they plan to make observance of their idea of sacred mandatory for us all. This will be big hit with the Quakers.
  • ...abridging the freedom of speech... - That's the whole point of this exercise, isn't it? They are amending the constitution in order to eliminate this instance of free speech.
  • ...or of the press... - How real can freedom of the press be without freedom of speech?
  • ...or the right of the people peaceably to assemble... - Again, they have created a crack in which to slip the thin end of a wedge. They now have the power to limit what a peaceful group of people can do.
  • ...and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - As with freedom of the press, how real is the power to petition the government when your means of expression are limited?

This one little amendment has within it all the tools they need to repeal the entire first amendment. Of course, I'm arguing the far extremes of reason here. Nothing like this would happen right away. For the first amendment to erode away would take years of interpretation and precedent setting decisions by a judiciary filled with right-wing ideological nuts, exactly the kind of judges Bush prefers for the highest positions.

You have to ask yourself why conservatives are always so hot to pass this amendment. It's not like we are experiencing an epidemic of flag desecration. When was the last time you heard of anyone disrespectfully burning a flag in the United States? It's not a problem. I was a scout and learned all of the proper flag etiquette. Personally, I am far more offended by the flags I see every day on car and truck antennae, left out in all kinds of weather, after dark, faded and torn to shreds by whipped along at 70 mph. Let them show some respect for the flag themselves before they start mandating the proper forms of patriotic observance for the rest of us.

This has nothing to do with the flag. It's a political game. It's about making points and it's about control. Conservative lawmakers like to bring this up because it's a good way to rally the faithful. They get to scare the base with urban legends about flag-burning hippies and then promise to come to the rescue with an amendment. Like the right to life amendment and the heterosexual-only marriage amendment, the point is to keep their supporters angry and motivated. Many of them are fully aware that it would be a disaster if they actually passed all of these amendments and could no longer tap into that reservoir of red state fear and anger at election time.

Isn't it interesting how the same people who go on and on about the original intent of the founders are always so eager to slap new amendments into the constitution. Their amendments are always aimed at banning something. Their goal is to limit freedom, not to expand it, to protect the privileges of an exclusive group, not to expand those privileges to all. This isn't a coincidence. The stern father values of the right include respect for established authority, reverence for the past, and controlling disorderly individualism through conformity or suppression. As the rally the faithful, they get to show themselves to be strong father figures, not only defending the values they all hold sacred, but also taking a firm hand to supress the anarchic impulses of the childlike others.

Though it's probably not formost in their minds at the moment, they wouldn't mind taking the first amendment apart and replacing all of those disorderly freedoms with proper obligations. Let us be free to worship only in the right way; to say and write only approved things; to gather only to do nice, conforming things, like go to church and hold 4th of July parades; and ask only respectful and positive questions of our godly, anointed leaders.

Fortunately, along with the idiots there are still a few same people among our leaders. There are still enough willing to call the bluff of the slimy opportunists.
Supporters said there was more public support than ever because of emotions following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They said detractors are out of touch with public sentiment.

"Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. "Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."

Critics accused the amendment's supporters of exploiting the attacks to trample the right to free speech.

"If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents." said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., whose district includes the site of the former World Trade Center.

Cunningham and his ilk have had their opportunity to preen before their constituents, now let's have the Nadlers of congress bring some sanity to this spectacle.

No comments: