- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

The great whirlwind that blew across the continent 225 years ago cleared ground for Americans to erect a monument of genius the Constitution. It is wondrous to behold. We call one of its more striking features the First Amendment. A glance its way, on this Fourth of July, might repay our trouble.
The First Amendment is terse, pithy. I quote one portion: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." In my own rumbustious profession, we live by that protection: the right to grab some alleged malefactor by the necktie assuming you can find an American wearing a necktie these days and say to him, "Whassa matter with you, saying a dumb thing like that?"
But the right inheres not only in high and mighty outlets of expression. It inheres in all of us. You and you and you and you: Sing it out. Vent your spleen. Pour out your praise. Thus we keep free.
I bring all this up because, being what we cantankerous humans are, we fail frequently to get this free-speech business exactly right. We tend to think of my speech, not yours.
This tendency is showing itself grotesquely in public. I call attention to just two instances. The first relates to political campaign financing. A bipartisan coalition led by Arizona's Republican Sen. John McCain and Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold wants to regulate and limit political speech by telling you how much you can spend on it.
The McCain-Feingold movement has a serious chance of success. Worse, perhaps, the U.S. Supreme Court last week, in a Colorado case, upheld limits on what political parties may spend to back their own candidates.
The second instance relates to the Boy Scouts, whose right to set their own membership standards the Supreme Court has in fact affirmed most recently in a New York case.
The Scouts affirm heterosexuality as the moral norm for members and leaders. Straight up the wall this historic (not to mention scriptural) point of view sends gay rights groups and their backers. Some United Way organizations have cut the Scouts out, and citadels of enlightenment like San Francisco have sought to exclude the Scouts from access to public places.
This variety of persecution cuts straight across the intent of the First Amendment. What? Can't set your own membership requirements? Persecutors of the Scouts want the targets of their wrath to whimper "uncle." That ain't the First Amendment, my friends; it's social fascism. The persecutors are lazy bums. They don't want to argue and persuade; they want to pass laws saying, "Listen, there's just one right way of thinking, and that's ours."
The problem, be it known, is hardly without precedent. Our race, the human one, is wired for intolerance. We want it our way, not someone else's. That's because we're right right? Maybe and maybe not. The First Amendment enshrines the right to dispute such a question.
Nor has the Supreme Court, so wrong on campaign finance, gone over yet to the dark side. Last week, the court unanimously instructed state and local governments as to the limitations on their power to regulate tobacco advertising. The People's Republic of Massachusetts had banned cigarette ads visible from schools and playgrounds 1,000 feet away supposedly to protect children. Yeah, said the court, but what about adults and their right to receive the industry's messages?
Such are the perplexities that arise from attempts to fine-tune exceptions to free-speech rights: one excellent reason to avoid, whenever possible, the fine-tuning of opinion.
I'm biased, naturally. By the First Amendment I live daily the right to put forth a nutty viewpoint, the right of others to tell me just how nutty that viewpoint really is.
Let us, bound for our 226th year of independence, pause long enough to reflect upon what we have in the First Amendment. Our best guarantee of liberty, that's what.

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