Monday, May 12, 2014

Examining the First Amendment

Recently, there has been quite a bit of consternation about the First Amendment and the consequences of espousing unpopular views.  Simply put, a lot of what is said is nonsense, and the webcomic XKCD put it best in the following cartoon:

In other words, while the First Amendment preserves your right to be an asshole as far as the government is concerned, it does not prevent other people from putting up with your shit.  If you decide to openly flaunt a loaded firearm around some kids in Little League to show how much of a big man you are, you are an asshole.  If you tell your assistant (allegedly mistress) that she can't bring black men with her to you basketball games, you are an asshole.  If you insist on grazing your cattle on federal lands without ever paying (at great expense to taxpayers), or insist, at threat of gunpoint, that you can ride your ATV over sensitive Native American burial sites, you are an asshole.  And, if you espouse anti-gay remarks, don't be surprised if you are suddenly shunned because, after all, you are an asshole.

You might think, "hey, what about my free speech rights?" Well, let's look at the text of the First Amendment, m'kay?

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.

Notably, the First Amendment prohibits Congressional action, which, by extension, prohibits action by the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch (the other branches of government). Notice it doesn't affect State or Local governments - that's covered by the 14th Amendment.  Also notice that freedom of speech is listed after the freedom of religion.  Why is that?  Because we, as Americans, have the freedom of association.  We can choose to associate with whomever we want.  That right applies to people and corporations like HGTV and the NBA.

And by the way, a quick aside on Donald Sterling - a lot of people seem to be upset about the fact the Sterling was bounced out of the NBA for a private conversation where Mr. Sterling espoused racist views. While I can somewhat appreciate that concern, we need to remember the following: 1) Donald Sterling has acted on his racist views in his real estate business; and 2) the players were going to boycott the playoffs until Sterling was banned for life.  And guess what, NBA players have the right to do so because just as the Government can't attack Mr. Sterling for espousing racist views, it also can't force the NBA players to associate with him.  But don't cry for Sterling too much - he will litigate this forced sale of his franchise to the bitter end, and even if he loses, he is currently estimated to make over a BILLION dollars from the sale.

Thus, while every American has a God-given right to be an asshole without criminal repercussions, it is also the God-given right of every American to choose not to associate with assholes.  So, to those of you who would like to avoid becoming a pariah, I would offer the following advice: STOP BEING AN ASSHOLE.  

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