OPINION | Barry Richard: Is it Time to Amend the 1st Amendment?
“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.”
There it is. The First Amendment to the Constitution Of The United States Of America. Perhaps the most maligned, misunderstood, misquoted of the first ten Amendments, known as The Bill Of Rights, ratified effective December 15, 1791.
Nowhere in there did the Founders suggest that certain speech be outlawed even if unpopular with most Americans. Nor does it say that protesters have a right to toss bottles full of urine at police. It certainly does not provide protection to those who choose to riot or destroy personal or public property while doing so. Hell, I can’t even find the part that bans a crèche from city hall square.
As one who takes the Constitution quite seriously and quite literally, it concerns me to see the First Amendment twisted and “interpreted” to fit the needs of the politically correct. What concerns me most however as a journalist and a citizen is the desire by a growing number of young people to amend the Amendment – to ban certain speech they consider to be offensive.
Too many veterans of the nation’s greatest conflicts have told me that they fought to defend The Constitution and the rights and freedoms contained in that historic document. Among them, the right to say stupid and offensive things. They and I fear that when you begin to surrender individual rights based on the popular opinion of the day you begin to erode the very freedoms that make America great.
When we begin to ban offensive speech, whose job is it to determine what is offensive, and what is not? What makes some speech more offensive than other speech? Is there a test? Might what is acceptable speech today be deemed unacceptable tomorrow? What are the penalties for violating the offensive speech rules?
We have seen an amazing uptick in violent confrontations in our streets. Much of it is related to political speech and what some have found to be unacceptable behavior. Chants of, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now!” White nationalist groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis have been granted permits to march in Charlottesville. Antifa radicals have assaulted citizens and police.
Freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment to The U.S. Constitution. Violent confrontations are not.
In closing, I wonder how many of you would favor amending the First Amendment to exclude speech or actions considered to be hateful? Or are you, like me, satisfied with the document as it is written?
Editor’s Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.