Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Freedom: Religion, Speech, Etc.

I was reading a discussion about the so-called "separation of church and state" clause that some believe is part of the first amendment to the US constitution, and this discussion led me to contemplate both that, and another part of the first amendment. Before we continue, here is the first amendment in its entirety:

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.

The word "respecting" came up in the discussion. One participant in the discussion made clear that he or she thinks the word as used in the 1A means something like "showing favoritism to one particular religion." This is the third definition given by Merriam-Webster for the word "respect: High or special regard.

Another participant pointed out that the first definition given in multiple dictionaries for the word "respecting" as well as "respect" is the proper one, especially as it was the definition in most common use at the time of the drafting of the constitution. Respect: A relation or reference to a particular thing or situation. Respecting: About or relating to (something).  Source: Merriam-Webster.

In other words, if I may (and I may; freedom of speech and all that): Congress shall make no law about an establishment of religion. That means neither pro nor con, because it doesn't specify which. Then it goes on to say (Congress shall make no law) prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).

That is pretty simple, isn't it? Apparently not, when viewed through the tinted lenses of a desire to control what other people do. How else would you explain this very statement being used as an excuse to prohibit free exercise of religion in public areas, most notably in public schools?

But I digress. The poster who could not or would not consider any other meaning of "respecting" than "favoritism" actually seemed to be stuck on the idea that the US government is showing favoritism towards the Islamic religion to the detriment of Christians. That may or may not be the case, but it is beside the point; which is that the government shouldn't interfere with the establishment nor free exercise of religion. Any religion.

"But what if..." the pro-big-government types would be asking right now, if they were reading this. News flash: the government doesn't need to be involved in everything. Some things, we the people can handle without their "help." That's the whole reason we need a Constitution in the first place. If everything needed to be handled by government edict, why waste time with a Constitution?

While pondering all this, it occurred to me that most of the slogans and talking points hurled about by folks on both sides of the aisle are a result of misunderstanding the issues. And here is where we come to the other part of the first amendment: freedom of speech. I'll go on record right now saying that everyone has a right to free speech, as far as I am concerned. That doesn't mean everyone's speech is worth listening to, nor that everyone has a right to an audience. If you say something I deem worth hearing and thinking about, I'll listen. If I consider what you are saying to be nonsense or just repeating a slogan or talking point, I've got better things to do.
One of the talking points I often hear and see on various forums goes something like this: "If you are gonna be in America, you should have to speak the language."
Ok, let's take that a bit further. If you are gonna have freedom of speech, you should understand the language so that you know what you are actually saying when you repeat a slogan. Because believe me, a lot of people don't have a clue what they are saying. The person who repeats the "speak the language" talking point is often the same person who will talk about freedom, such as "America is about freedom; not free stuff." Oh, really? You mean like freedom of speech?

Look, I don't care if you stand on the corner expounding on your beliefs in Klingon or Quenya. Or shouting slogans you haven't really thought about, because you like the person you heard them from. If I don't like it, I don't have to stop and listen. I'm not going to complain to the nearest "authority" figure. But if you want me to listen, convince me that you have something worthwhile to say. That, in my opinion, is what freedom of speech is about. 

1 comment:

Kulkuri said...

How else would you explain this very statement being used as an excuse to prohibit free exercise of religion in public areas, most notably in public schools?
Basically the only restriction on the exercise of religion in public schools is that people working for the public school can not lead the religious exercise. Students are free to pray or exercise their religion as long as they don't interfere with normal operations of the school.