January 31st, 2005

my news is better than yours - foxlet

The First Amendment: Why, Yes, Houston Chronicle. It is that important.

I just read this article, linked to by pearl_o, and am utterly apalled. As I read, I thought "How could anyone possibly think that?" The first amendment is the first thing (obviously) in the Bill of Rights for a reason.

It's not a long amendment: 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.

Certainly the amendments regarding prohibition and suffrage and defendant's rights are longer. But those specific freedoms enummerated within the first amendment are not small things. Not in terms of the historical context in which they were set down, nor in terms of the degree to which those freedoms have contributed to our national identity.

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The founding fathers did not give us idle freedoms. This Amendment to the Constitution isn't simply ink scrawled across some moldering scroll somewhere. It is the living heart of this nation.

We don't have a shared cultural experience to draw on to form our identity as Americans. We don't have eons of struggling out of the Neolithic age together, building a monarchy. We're -- for the most part -- a people of transplants. What do have, though -- what makes us a *nation* and not just a country -- is nothing more than an framework of ideas. Some of the most incandescent and fiercely moving ideas in the history of government, if you ask me.

Some people reading this might shake their head and thing it reads as the ranting of someone starry-eyed, and young, and in love with what little they think they know of history and politics. And I'll come right out and say it: yes. I am starry-eyed. Yes, I am in love with this country. Yes, I am young.

But I don't ever want to stop being starry-eyed about the concept that people are free to be who they are. That's the real meat of the First Amendment. I don't ever want to come to a point in my life where I am not moved by that.

And I don't think I will ever stop loving this country. I don't think I have that in me. America is not perfect. Yes, there are hundreds of curtailments on free speech, and freedom of assembly, and certainly there are challenges that face America today that would have been so utterly alien to the minds of the men who built this government that it's difficult to fathom what they would have said or done.

Am I disappointed in America sometimes? Am I horrified with America sometimes? Absolutely. But I don't feel that I have the luxury to let myself feel so betrayed by some piece of legislation that is being considered about what I can and cannot do with my body, or my love, or my words that I stop taking full advantage of what it is to be the recipient of these neccesary freedoms.

John Locke said that government was a contract between the governed and their leaders, and if anything else that social contract is the crux of what our country was modeled on. When you start seeing America's warts to exclusion of all else? Then you have an obligation to speak up. When you feel that your government is letting you down, then if you don't put your shoulder to the plow and start pushing toward what you believe should be, then you are letting your government down.

That's what I believe.

And I recognize that my opinion is not the only opinion. I recognize and welcome differing points of view. I wouldn't want to live somewhere that I couldn't say what I thought, and I wouldn't want to stifle somebody else's opinion either.

That's my point: we all have the right to our own, particular points of view, and as enraging as it can be sometimes, as hard as it can be to understand the ideas articulated by people who disagree with me, it's glorious that they do.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his love poems to God as though God were a small child, in need of protection. In one of his poems, he says something ot the effect of, "God, I am afraid. What will happen to you when I'm gone? Who will take care of you?"

I understand that poem more in relation to my country, than my spirituality. What will happen to America if free discussions and open debates don't occur? Who will take care of our government, if we don't have the freedom to do it?

It's a frightening thought.

That's why the First Amendment is so important. That's why I can't read something like that article without an utter feeling of bewilderment. I simply cannot fathom it. I don't know how to be an American without holding the Bill of Rights up, as a standard of that national faith.

I'm leaving the comments on this post open, and I encourage you guys to say anything you want to, and if you disagree with me, or with anything I've said, then that's really cool. I just ask that you do it respectfully, and have to admit that I'm really crappy at answering comments in any kind of timely fashion.
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