The First Amendment Revisited | By Blaise Scemama (@blaisescemama)

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«Just ask yourself, what if the public wasn’t allowed to speak out against laws forbidding women the right to vote or people of the same sex to marry? Remember, both women’s right to vote and same-sex marriage were against the law until public outcries were heard throughout the country.»

Photo credit: Newtown Grafitti, taken October 7, 2011.

By Blaise Scemama

Everytime some maniac drives a car into a crowd of people, the First Amendment is immediately put into question.

The right blames violence on Islam, questioning the freedom of religion. The left condemns hate speech, questioning the freedom of speech. Both factions, seem to question the right to peaceably assemble and, regardless of party affiliation, the freedom of the press is certainly questioned by everyone, from progressives to Trump himself.

Essentially, the First Amendment says that government cannot forcibly stop you from assembling peaceably, practicing a religion, or speaking your mind in public or in the press.

While there are restrictions to all of the First Amendment freedoms, hate speech, no matter how vicious, is one hundred percent protected under the First Amendment. This means, a large group of people, assembling in a park, spewing hate speech, is not illegal.

What happened in Charlottesville, seems to have put the First Amendment in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U), an organization responsible for protecting First Amendment rights, has recently come under fire on Twitter and other social media platforms, for defending the White Nationalists’ right to exercise their freedom of speech and to assemble at Charlottesville.

But the A.C.L.U’s defense was sound – the White Nationalists who assembled at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville were acting completely within their legal rights, under the First Amendment, to assemble. The Antifa, also present, were equally acting within their legal rights to assemble, and yet a state of emergency was issued, 19 people were injured, and one was killed – why?

Is the First Amendment flawed?

Well, let’s remember why freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and press are so important.

For one thing, if we didn’t have the First Amendment, the government could literally make it against the law to protest or criticize, in the streets or in the press, anything the government did.

Just ask yourself, what if the public wasn’t allowed to speak out against laws forbidding women the right to vote or people of the same sex to marry? Remember, both women’s right to vote and same-sex marriage were against the law until public outcries were heard throughout the country. The First Amendment allowed for this public discourse to take place and America was made better for it.

The freedom to assemble and the freedom of speech are simply too important to do away with. But is the public just too irresponsible to have such freedoms bestowed upon them?

I hope not…

However, as racial tensions continue to grow, people’s speech has become more and more charged with polarity, vitriol, and anger. Protests are becoming increasingly heated and violent.

In fact, the tensions between protesters may ironically bring about a real justification for a more militarized police force, the type left and right wing conspiracy theorist have been prophesying about for years.

If martial law were to be enacted, I hope extreme protesters and conspiracy theorists on both sides recognize that their prophecies were a bit self-fulfilled due to their extreme behavior.

And this is what I take issue with – not the First Amendment, but extremism and extreme partisanship.

The alt-right accusing anyone who disagrees with them a Communist, and the far left accusing anyone who disagrees with them a Fascist. The alt-right vilifying the left, the far left vilifying the right. I call it double Mccarthyism.

If you haven’t realized it yet, the country is in a state of social unrest. If we don’t start moving toward the middle, politically speaking, civil war will be inevitable.

I think most agree that what Trump said in his speech following the events at Charlottesville, making false equivalences between the Antifa and the White Nationalist who drove his car into a crowd of people, was inappropriate and insensitive. However, the Antifa have engaged in unjustified acts of violence, like lighting cars on fire and assaulting people in the streets, so let’s not pretend that they don’t have some responsibility for rising tensions throughout the country and on the day in question.

Limiting the First Amendment means less dialogue – less dialogue in times of civil unrest may result in more violence.

In truth, there are actual Fascists on the far right, and actual Communists on the far left. However, most people are just good and reasonable people who may lean to the right or lean to the left, but somehow get swept up together in this persistent culture war. It’s time to wake up and condemn both extreme factions of the right and left, if they engage in violent behavior.

We need to promote serious dialogue between the left and right. The only way to accomplish dialogue, is to keep the First Amendment exactly where it is.

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