History shows us that it’s not uncommon for the conquering ruler to make certain that his predecessor’s image be effectively erased . . . or defaced . . . from the minds of the people over which he now reins, in order to influence future thought.
I’m currently in the middle of a book which describes how Henry VII (father to the now infamous Henry VIII) did this by having his underlings rewrite history pertaining to Henry’s defeated foe, Richard III.
After all, it’s not convenient for the current ruler to be fettered by the truths of the past reign, nor by the commentary of less than sympathetic citizens. Surely, anyone who challenged the rewritten history could easily face retribution. They’d be silenced . . . permanently.
Our history—and even our present world—is not lacking in examples of how freedom of speech is trampled daily. Whether it’s Kim Jong-un’s restrictions of opinion in North Korea or Nicolás Maduro’s silencing of political opposition in Venezuela, the list is long, and our world is largely burdened by the chains of restrictive leadership that must use silence to perpetuate otherwise wildly unpopular regimes.
For a person in power, the silence of one’s opposition is golden.
Our nation has long enjoyed protection of these freedoms, thanks to the wise foresight of our nation’s Founders, who—believing that freedom of speech is precious—made certain to place it first in a list of other priceless liberties outlined in our Bill of Rights.
It’s quite simple, really. You have the right to opine as intelligently (or unintelligently) as you’d like.
You also have the right to voice support for a particular candidate or party to speak for you in Washington. Organizations have this right as well. The Supreme Court seems to agree with me to that end, and ruled as such in the 2010 Citizens United case, in which it “threw out parts of a 63-year-old law prohibiting corporations and unions from paying to air ads for or against political candidates.”
In this Jan. 20, 2012 photo, people hold signs during a gathering on the anniversary of the Citizens United decision in Montpelier, Vt. First, it was the Vermont senator with socialist leanings. Then it was Jerry of Ben & Jerry's ice cream fame. Now there are about 50 Vermont communities ready to chime in on a proposal to pass a Constitutional amendment to clarify that corporations do not have the same rights as human beings. (Photo Credit: AP)
President Barack Obama bemoaned the Citizens United decision, saying that it would “open the floodgates” for foreign corporations to influence our elections, though ironically enough he and his administration have occupied their time suing the state of Florida over its effort to prevent non-citizens from actually voting in our elections.
Despite the highest court’s ruling, certain lawmakers remain incensed.
According to this resolution—which Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently announced will be scheduled for a vote—Congress would have the right to curtail free speech based upon its ability to influence the outcome of political elections. J.R. 19 would give Congress the power to:
“…regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections. . .”
J.R. 19 would create a constitutional amendment that, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has noted, gives “Congress the authority to regulate political speech, because elected officials have decided they don’t like it when the citizenry has the temerity to criticize what they’ve done.”
That’s no small accusation.
In this March 18, 2014, photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators’ state Capitol day event in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
So, does this measure really repeal the First Amendment?
Our First Amendment gives us protection from a government which would curtail “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.”
Therefore, if our government can determine what is free speech as it pertains to politics, what is to stop the government from further deciding what is freedom of speech in other instances, or what constitutes freedom of the press; what comprises “peaceable assembly;” or “petition for redress of grievances?”
Ironically enough, the press is singularly protected in this resolution:
“Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”
Sen. Cruz continued:
“So The New York Times is protected, but it doesn’t say the same thing about the freedom of speech. It doesn’t say the same thing about religious liberty, what is says it that politicians in Washington have unlimited constitutional authority to muzzle each and every one of you if you’re saying things the government finds inconvenient.”
Indeed, beyond the myriad problems with giving the federal government the right to decide what speech is free, there’s the matter of religion. The First Amendment includes explicit protections for religious freedom, and if the First Amendment is tainted by a Constitutional amendment that directly contradicts it, think of the ramifications.
Specifically, think of the effect it will have on matters like the Hobby Lobby case, in which the company argues that—per the First Amendment—the federal government cannot mandate that it violate religious principles by providing employees with contraceptives.
Truly, it goes so much farther than just regulating political speech.
[sharequote align="center"]Truly, it goes so much farther than just regulating political speech.[/sharequote]
J.R. 19 may not openly call for a repeal of the First Amendment, but it cripples it by harnessing it to conditions—giving the federal government full purview into classifying freedom of speech . . . and could just as easily make it open season on the religious freedom portion of the First Amendment.
J.R. 19 would weaken our Constitution with contradictions, making it easier for those who want to abuse power . . . and silence inconvenient political opposition. It opens a Pandora’s Box.
Most agree that this is nothing more than a show vote. It likely is. But nevertheless, the fact that this is cosponsored by 41 U.S. senators willing to cripple the First Amendment (even if just for show) . . . it's nothing less than staggering.
J.R. 19 would do to the Constitution what the proverbial camel’s nose did to the tent. Once that camel is given even a little leeway, it’s not long before he’s all the way in—and overpowering the tent.
If the government can forever emblazon our Constitution with a measure that begins crippling our First Amendment, the rest of the story can’t be good.
Indeed, silence—especially when forced—isn’t always golden.
Just ask the silenced.
Mary Ramirez is a full time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com--a political commentary blog, and contributor to the Chris Salcedo Show. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree
Feature Image: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
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