Sunday, March 5, 2017
A Groundswell to Repeal the First Amendment
As of early March, an amazing 46% of Americans polled believe that restrictions on free speech are both advisable and necessary according to Debate.org. This isn’t just a right wing reaction against left wing speech. There’s just as much of this sentiment coming from the liberal side. On November 20, 2015, Pew Research reported a poll that showed 40% of millennials believe that there should be restrictions on speech that is offensive to minorities. Clearly, if they had their druthers, the Trump administration would thoroughly support government control and censorship of the MSM (mainstream media). Just denying access to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN, etc. from White House briefings just isn’t enough.
Beyond speech, there is also a growing number of Americans who are thoroughly convinced that the United States is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles by solid church-going Christians. They see the Constitution as a bastion supporting Christianity, mostly protestant, and somewhat tolerant of Judaism. See these sites for a bit more on this belief:
We are also seeing a rather rapidly-acceleration move to curtail protests, which are increasingly seen as threats to the peace and stability of the nation, particularly that populist vision embodied by Trump and his constituency; protests these days are mostly against Trump policies and conservative legislation. New laws would make protesting very risky indeed. The liberal-leaning National Lawyers Guild published this in their Journal on March 2nd:
In recent weeks, multiple articles have pointed to the wave of new anti-protesting bills introduced in state legislatures since the end of 2016. The Intercept, Washington Post, AlterNet, Democracy Now!, and other news outlets have provided overviews of the types of bills under consideration, the potential chilling effect on protests, and the unconstitutional nature of these measures. Because NLG has a long history of protecting the right to dissent, we offer the following summary and observations based on decades of experience providing legal support to social movements and monitoring the policing of protests.
The current round of legislation—introduced by Republican lawmakers in 18 states—attempts to criminalize and penalize protesting in various ways. Many states are drafting bills to increase fines and jail sentences for protesters obstructing traffic (Minnesota, Washington, South Dakota, Indiana, Florida, Mississippi, Iowa), tampering with or trespassing on infrastructure such as railways and pipelines (Colorado, Oklahoma), picketing (Michigan), wearing masks (Missouri), or refusing to leave an “unlawful protest” (Virginia). Particularly alarming are bills removing liability from drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protesters (North Dakota, Tennessee, Florida). A bill in Indiana initially instructed police to clear protesters from highways by “any means necessary.” Other legislation has proposed labeling protests as “economic terrorism” (Washington), charging costs of policing to protesters and organizers (Minnesota), allowing businesses to sue individuals protesting them (Michigan, Colorado), and using anti-racketeering laws to seize assets of protesters (Arizona). A bill in Oregon would require public community colleges to expel students convicted of participating in a “violent riot.”
Some articles portray the recent increase in legislation targeting protesting as a result of the large and almost daily demonstrations since the inauguration of Donald Trump; however, others are careful to note that this trend began before Trump took office. Bills in Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, and North Dakota (some of the earliest) were clearly introduced as a direct response to the labor movement to raise the minimum wage, the resistance by Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, and demonstrations that erupted in relation to police killings as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While this trend of targeting protesters began before Trump, the current conditions are favorable to repression of First Amendment activity. Taken together, Trump’s three executive orders on policing, the large number of state legislatures dominated by Republicans, the pro-policing and pro-business attitude of the current administration, and the constant and growing spontaneous demonstrations protesting Trump all combine to produce an atmosphere in which many powerful interests have a stake in suppressing mass dissent.
Journalists, lawyers, civil liberties experts, and Democratic lawmakers have addressed the problems with these bills: the criminalization of peaceful protests, the chilling of dissent, the fact that penalties for these actions already exist, and the decidedly unconstitutional nature of the proposals. As a result, several bills have already been rejected, including those in Michigan, Virginia, and Arizona. However, many still remain under consideration, and those with an interest in protecting the right to dissent must be vigilant about tracking and vigorously opposing the remainder…
Some disturbing trends are emerging which are related to false assumptions about protesters upon which the legislation is premised. Arizona’s SB1142, for example, was explicitly based on the claim that protesters are paid to be in the streets. The myth of the “paid protester,” which has been codified in police training manuals and the rhetoric of Trump, has long existed. To seasoned activists the idea of paid/professional protesters is mostly seen as a joke, but the politicians introducing these bills are deadly serious.
The myth of paid protesters is almost always tied to the figure of billionaire George Soros, who is regularly accused of being the one issuing these fictive paychecks. While Soros’ Open Society Foundation does offer grants to individuals and organizations to work on specific projects related to civil liberties and criminal justice reform, there is no evidence that he has ever paid protesters to be in the streets. Yet while introducing SB5009, Washington Senator Doug Eriksen specifically named Soros, as well as the Sierra Club, as intended targets of the legislation. Another protest myth is clearly behind one measure in Georgia’s package of pro-policing laws—SB160 creates a new felony offense for protesters who throw “human or animal excreta” at police during demonstrations (a claimed occurrence that has often been cited in policing manuals and yet has no evidence to back it up).
Absolutely everything that I have written above about restricting speech, enforcing Christianity as our official and primary religion and the statutes focused on restricting assemblages of people with grievances against their government would and does violate the First Amendment presented above. In 1868 following the Civil War, the Constitution extended the application of the Bill of Rights – which includes that First Amendment – to states as well as the federal government under the “due process” provision of the Fourteen Amendment (one of those 1868 Reconstruction Amendments): “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Historically, the Bill of Rights (enacted in 1789, ratified in 1791) was our reaction to the British monarchy and their running roughshod over individual rights, their affirmation that the Anglican Church was their state religion and generally behaving as the police state that crushed our protests (remember the Boston Tea Party?) as well as the American spirit and the rights of these passionate and freedom-craving colonialists. Take that Bill of Rights, or any significant portion thereof, and we move back to that “police state” that the United States was created to destroy.