By Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 19
The First Amendment to the Constitution gets cited frequently, usually when someone is championing his or her right to free speech or freedom of religion. Freedom of the press, also guaranteed by the First Amendment, gets plenty of attention and frequent mention, too.
The right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances also are tucked neatly into the amendment, although it’s likely that some people probably couldn’t get past speech, religion and press if asked to list those rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The impetus for this basic primer on the First Amendment is a story published Wednesday in The Topeka Capital-Journal about a Washington, D.C., lawyer, Chuck Tobin, and his talk Tuesday to students at The University of Kansas’ law school.
The story and Tobin’s talk, delivered on Constitution Day, served as a reminder that if we want to continue enjoying those rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, we must defend them vigorously even when we disagree with what others say, what they print, broadcast or publish on the Internet, or how they exercise their religious freedom.
If those rights can be denied to anyone, they can be denied to all. That is something we must remember when others, under rights granted by the Constitution, are engaged in speech or behavior that we abhor. Such events as Tobin’s visit to KU are valuable in that they serve to drive home that message. It is one that can’t be repeated too often.
Most of us hear on a regular basis people championing causes, positions or opinions that we simply cannot support. But we must support the right of the person to deliver the message, regardless of how ridiculous or hurtful we many think it is.
Religious tolerance has long been a given in this country, but since Sept. 11, 2001, there are those among us who have little tolerance for a specific religion and would have no qualms about limiting its practice, and its right to peaceable assembly for that matter, in the United States. But, again, if the First Amendment doesn’t protect religious freedom for everyone, it protects it for no one.
This is basic stuff, to be sure, but some people think their freedom of speech or religion trumps that of others. It isn’t so.
Tobin had it right when he said: “We need the First Amendment to protect the people we don’t like. That’s its core value.”