After the original wording of the U.S. Constitution was completed, some of our most faithful and influential Founding Fathers were dubious of ratifying it.
They feared that if it didn’t offer more specifics about what government can and cannot do, the day would come when government could be used to threaten our God-given rights instead of defend them.
So after much deliberation and debate, the Framers came together to draft 10 Amendments called the “Bill of Rights.” The First Amendment added to the Constitution says this:
“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.”
Here the term “congress” is synonymous with “government,” since the Framers had no intentions of allowing anyone other than actual lawmakers to make law – not unelected judges or monarchial presidents as we permit to rule over us today. There are two reasons why religious freedom and free speech were listed first in our Bill of Rights.
If we’re going to have a system predicated on God-given (not government-granted) rights, then the people were going to need to be free from government to worship and obey God in the first place. Because once the precedent is set that government can restrict access to God, then that conveys government – not God – is the ultimate authority. Our Founding Fathers had just fought a revolution against a king who literally believed his earthly authority was akin to God’s, so the last thing they wanted was to establish a government that arrogantly pretended the same.
One way to make that less likely would be to allow the people to speak their minds — even against their own government if need be. Our words come from our conscience, so by restricting speech government is really restricting our beliefs. That completely undermines the constitutional paradigm, which is to limit the jurisdiction of the government and not the freedom of the governed.
From the dawn of the republic these twin pillars of liberty served us well and were the genesis of all our other rights. They kept in place the foundation needed to maintain liberty, but also permitted us to right our wrongs.
All previous successful social reform movements (abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights for minorities, etc.) in this country’s history wouldn’t have been possible without religious freedom and free speech. Each of them had their roots in the church, with the church free to speak truth to power. And free speech provided the platform that made confronting injustice in the public square possible.
For generations the political mainstream agreed these two pillars must be upheld. Sure, there were disagreements regarding the extremes in both directions, but the basic tenants of religious freedom and free speech were a given regardless of which side won the election. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
Though its origins are found in the bastardization of the “establishment clause” by the U.S. Supreme Court over 50 years ago, the advent of political correctness in the 1990s is when the Left increasingly began to flirt with no longer tolerating Judeo-Christian religious beliefs or free speech. And now that several on the Right have proven they lack the courage of conviction to oppose them, we may look back on 2015 as the year we crossed the Rubicon where liberty is concerned.
It’s quite likely that religious freedom as we’ve known it died in Indiana back in March. First there was the unprecedented campaign of lies, distortions, and propaganda the Left mounted against the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was inspired by legislation Democrat Bill Clinton signed into law as president in 1993. Then that state’s GOP leadership assumed the position and surrendered religious freedom to the cult of progressivism with nary a shot fired.
This dystopic pattern repeated itself last week, after two would-be Jihadists were shot dead by a heroic Texas cop before they could mass murder a few hundred people who wanted to draw Mohammed. Instead of defending free speech, many of the Left’s talking heads began to immediately blame Pamela Geller and those who organized the event as a tribute to those massacred in the Charlie Hebdo attack.
It wasn’t that long ago we saw dignitaries from nearly every civilized nation on Earth marching in the streets of Paris to show solidarity with free speech and Charlie Hebdo. But the “right side of history” is evolving so fast now that we can change our beliefs in 90 days or less on things previous generations took for granted. And so it was that much of the liberal media – which needs the First Amendment to remain intact in order to exist – spent the week actually tearing it down.
CNN’s Chris Cuomo, fast becoming the mouthpiece for American statism, even took to Twitter to assert how the Constitution doesn’t protect “hate speech.” Mr. Cuomo said “don’t just say you love the Constitution—read it.” Perhaps he should consider taking his own advice, for the term “hate speech” is in the Constitution right next to the words “separation of church and state.” Which means it’s not in there at all.
However, far more worrisome than low-information Leftists like Cuomo were all the alleged conservatives who came out of the woodwork to throw both free speech and Geller under the bus. An American Thinker column titled “Conservative Pundits for Sharia” by Karin McQuillan said it best:
Muslims can follow their own religious beliefs, but they can’t force me to follow them. They believe that it is wrong to draw Muhammad; Catholics think it is wrong to get divorced; Jews think it is wrong to eat pork. You are not insulting Judaism by eating pork, a Catholic by divorcing, or a Muslim by drawing Muhammad. To claim that drawing Muhammad is an insult is a jihadi idea. It is not an American idea. It is applying their code to our behavior. Drawing Mohammed is entirely normal political speech. It is not a gratuitous insult; it is fighting the imposition of sharia law in America. If we don’t support the bravest among us when they criticize (radical) Islam’s fascist ways, why are we surprised when the missing moderate Muslims remain silent and invisible? They are not allowed to criticize their religion either, even in America.
The Left has already abandoned the First Amendment. If now the Right is poised to do the same, whether due to gutlessness or fecklessness, then the U.S. Constitution is null and void. Those of us who still wish to follow it are without political representation.
If you take away religious freedom and free speech America is still a lot of things, but it’s no longer exceptional.
(Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)