The First Amendment to our nation’s Constitution is foundational. You would think we would all agree on that, but you’d be sadly mistaken.
This incredible headliner of the Bill of Rights gives this country the marks of a truly free nation.
In America, we cannot be told what to believe or not to believe. We cannot be told what to say or what not to say (or publish). We may peaceably gather with like-minded citizens and our governing bodies are not intended to be shielded from accountability to their constituents.
For good measure, the Second Amendment gives teeth to each right enumerated in the First Amendment and to each amendment thereafter.
If you didn’t notice the overt attacks on these cherished rights before, you should notice them in this pandemic age.
It remains up for debate whether the reactionary, authoritarian public health policies of state and local governments across the Union were effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, or if they were even worth the tremendous detriment to the global economy and each individual’s wellbeing.
But perhaps the greatest damage done by the increase of emergency powers to governors, the mass lockdowns, business closures, church closures, mask orders, and more, is that the powers that be finally got the vocal majority of Americans to not only give up their rights but to demand the restriction of the rights of their neighbors.
Where I live, in a beautiful little suburb that would be Heaven on earth were it not located smack-dab in the center of the People’s Republic of New York, a local talk show host was recently assaulted in the street by a college professor.
The assailant, armed with a large bottle of hand sanitizer, stopped his vehicle to block her off, got out, and began screaming and kicking her car furiously. At one point, the victim says she feared for her life.
Just what had she done to warrant such an attack? Earlier that day, she’d attended a rally in the city to call for the reopening of the state and an end to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s lockdown orders.
Her car was still emblazoned with slogans like, “Phase 4 Now” and, pointing out the massive irony of mask mandates, “My body my choice! No forced mandates.”
The victim’s First Amendment rights to write slogans of any kind on her vehicle were not infringed upon by any government agent—this time, but that’s not the issue.
The coronavirus pandemic and the tense, fear-drenched environment created by the media have inspired citizens to turn on each other over the exercise of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
This is just one example of the sort of treatment an individual, whether conservative or liberal, black or white, can expect to receive if they dare exercise their right to speak out against coronavirus-related policy.
As we’ve seen in Michigan, if you’re a barber or hairdresser who cuts hair on the capitol steps or simply a frustrated citizen driving to Lansing to protest your governor’s draconian lockdown policy, you’re an enemy of public health.
“The sad irony here is that the protest was that they don’t like being in this stay-home order and they may have just created a need to lengthen it,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said of a lockdown protest back in April. “Just by congregating, they’ve made that a real possibility.”
“We know that this demonstration is going to come at a cost to people’s health,” Whitmer continued. “We know that when people gather that way without masks, they were within close proximity, they were touching one another, that that’s how COVID-19 spreads.”
But, if you’re out protesting over the death of George Floyd, Gov. Whitmer has your back.
“The First Amendment right to protest has never been more important, and at this moment when we are still battling a killer virus, it is crucial that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully, and in a way that follows social distancing guidelines to protect public health,” she said in a tweet over the weekend.
For all intents and purposes, our deeply divided society has adopted a selective approach to just who may enjoy their First Amendment rights.
If you shout the right slogan, carry the right sign, your right to protest will be fiercely defended—and hey, if it descends into riots and looting, even that will be defended as “the language of the unheard.”
But if you dare call for limitations on the unilateral power of governors to board up businesses, schools, and churches over a virus with roughly a .24% mortality rate, the party of “justice” will withhold all mercy.