- - Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Once upon a time, the idea of giving the First Amendment a haircut never occurred to anyone. The constitutional guarantee of free speech was held to be the cornerstone of the unique American experiment in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The Founding Fathers wrote it, plain, direct and so unambiguous that even a United States senator could understand it.

The Founders knew government wouldn’t like it. Thomas Jefferson (politically incorrect himself in the present heated moment), wrote to James Madison in 1787 that a bill of rights was needed to plug a glaring hole in the original document. “[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular,” he said, “and what no just government should refuse or rest on inference.”

Recently, certain Democratic senators, frustrated that “the people” persist in thinking for themselves, want to give the amendment that haircut. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat, pushes the idea of altering the Constitution to override the First Amendment, enabling the government to control all campaign spending, whether by individuals, candidates or outside groups. He argues that the First Amendment isn’t absolute, anyway. Mr. Schumer, who learned everything he thinks he knows at Harvard, isn’t exactly a constitutional scholar. He once identified the three branches of government as the House, the Senate and the Executive.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a Democrat, wants to trim the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. She thinks the guarantee of religious liberty applies only to organized institutions of worship, not to individuals.

“Certainly the First Amendment says that in institutions of faith that there is absolute power to, you know, to observe deeply held religious beliefs,” she says. “But I don’t think it extends far beyond that.” The senator, like everyone else, is entitled to her own ignorance, but not to her own “factoids,” a factoid being something that looks like a fact, sounds like a fact, but in fact is not a fact.

The Constitution includes two specific instructions to the Congress. The first is that it shall make no law concerning the establishment of religion. The second, which is not so much in vogue this season, is that Congress shall make no law prohibiting “the free exercise thereof,” that the exercise of religious beliefs is an individual right, not confined to a particular time or place of worship.

Sen. Baldwin puts it wrong, with an unholy purpose. With same-sex marriage having been declared a constitutional right, its giddy proponents are beginning an attack on the mediating institutions in society that, based on religious belief, hold the practice of same-sex marriage to be immoral and an offense against God and man no matter what five Supreme Court justices say about it.

As a practical matter this reading of the First Amendment means that Christian bakers may be compelled to furnish cakes for same-sex weddings, that Muslim caterers may be compelled to prepare meals at a gay wedding reception, that Jewish photographers may be compelled to photograph the proceedings, even if baker, cook and photographer hold with the teachings of their faith that such things are an offense against God, and are forbidden to His followers.

They will have lost the ability to exercise their rights as endowed them by that same Creator. Others can, under force of law and threat of official sanction, compel them to provide talents and labors despite their beliefs. Sen. Baldwin, a lawyer who should know better, wants to legitimize this coercion at cost to the amendment we all profess to cherish. These are proposals for a trash can.

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