First Amendment Run Amok?

We all remember last August, when white supremacist groups held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the pretext of protesting the removal of a Civil War statue of Robert E. Lee.  At least, that was what we were told was the purpose of the rally.  One of the organizers let it slip that the real purpose of the rally was to unify far-right hate groups including white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK.  The rally ended in tragedy when 19 people were injured and a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered by James Alex Fields, who drove his car viciously into a crowd.

Charlottesville-KesslerWell, guess what, folks?  The primary event organizer, one Jason Kessler, wants to do it again this year – he wants to hold an “anniversary celebration”.  Interestingly, other white supremacist groups are not on board with the idea.  Last November, Kessler applied to the city of Charlottesville, but his request was denied, citing “danger to public safety”.  Kessler, of course, wasn’t about to take that lying down, so in March he filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming it was denying his 1st Amendment rights.  Legal experts say it will fall on the city to prove that police would be unable to adequately protect protesters and citizens.

Why are other white supremacist groups on the bandwagon with Kessler’s idea? Both Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi Mike Peinovich say they will not attend if Kessler holds his rally.  Their stated reason is they fear attacks by “antifa thugs”.  But the reality, it seems, is that the entire “alt-right”, the collective term for white supremacist, nationalist and other such groups have been in a state of flux.  After the August Charlottesville disaster …

“Web companies finally started taking action against the white supremacy that had been allowed to fester on their platforms. The Daily Stormer, for instance, was dropped by domain provider GoDaddy for inciting violence in the wake of the rally, and has since bounced around the internet looking for a permanent home. Spencer’s fundraising efforts have collapsed, his legal counsel deserted him and, this week, he even had his credit card declined when he tried to buy a $4.25 shot of bourbon.”ThinkProgress, 11 May 2018

Kessler, however, is undaunted by the lack of support from the other groups and claims that …

“I do have a backup plan, for people who have been asking, and that is going to be in front of the White House. If Charlottesville denies our permit for any reason, it’s not safe, we’re going to get in vans and we’re going to go to Lafayette Park in front of the White House.”

Somehow, it sounds like a lot of hot air to me, BUT … it brings me to a point.  Is it, perhaps, time for some tweaks and adjustments to the U.S. Constitution?  The document was written and ratified in 1787, more than 230 years ago, and it has served quite well ever since.  But times change, and as we have seen in other areas, sometimes the document needs to be adjusted to reflect those changes.

The freedom of speech that is guaranteed in the 1st Amendment was never intended to be a mechanism for violence against the innocent, but today it is used just so.  I have alluded to this before, but largely stay away from the suggestion to ‘amend the amendment’, for it is a slippery slope and there is the fear that we might actually put restrictions on the very sorts of speech that should … must … be protected in order to maintain our free republic.  And it’s a sad shame that we need to even consider restricting the right to free speech … a shame that we, as human beings, do not have the good sense to temper our speech in the interest of respect, dignity and common sense.  But, welcome to the 21st century.

Other nations have found ways to limit speech that infringes on the rights of others, that incites violence, without sacrificing the right to speak out when government is making poor decisions, or abusing its power.  The UK and many other European nations have laws against

  • Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior intending or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or cause a breach of the peace.

  • Sending any article which is indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause distress or anxiety.


  • Incitement, incitement to racial hatred, incitement to religious hatred, incitement to terrorism including encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications, glorifying terrorism, collection or possession of a document or record containing information likely to be of use to a terrorist.


  • Treason including advocating for the abolition of the monarchy or compassing or imagining the death of the monarch.

hate speechHow, I ask you, could anybody argue against any of those exceptions to freedom of speech?  In a nutshell, the concept is that you have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to express your opinion, but you do not have a right to try to rile people to the point of violence and you do not have the right to cause people, with your speech, to feel intimidated or distressed.  It’s just common sense!  As a number of readers have expressed in the past, and as I have also said, “your rights end when they infringe upon anothers”.  I feel similarly about religious freedom:  you have the right to believe as you wish, to practice whatever religion you choose or none at all, but you do not have the right to attempt to force others to abide by your beliefs.

By definition, freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment.  Voicing one’s opinion can certainly be done in a manner that does not incite violence.  It can be done without raised voices, without wearing hooded robes, without guns, and without KKK symbols and swastikas.  I would never wish to place limits on voicing one’s opinions … as long as it is done calmly and respectfully.  Over the past 3 years, I have blocked three readers from this blog because they could not manage to comment without using slurs and vulgarity, without being disrespectful.  The same rules ought to apply in a public venue, I should think.

If Jason Kessler and his band of white supremacist thugs are allowed to hold another rally in August, I hope that a few common sense precautions are taken, such as a “no firearms beyond this point” rule, a “no motorized vehicles beyond this point” rule, and automatic arrest for anyone who hurls racial epithets or attempts a show of physical force.  Also, KKK hoods and Nazi symbols need to be banned.

If we ever plan to work toward healing the great divide in this nation, we must first learn to treat each other with respect.  If we do not want any adjustment to the 1st Amendment, then we must all learn to police ourselves, to curtail our speech when needed.  We need to think before we speak, especially in public. If we cannot or will not do that, then I fully support an ‘amendment to the amendment’, for the current level of hate in this country simply cannot continue.i

40 thoughts on “First Amendment Run Amok?

  1. You don’t need to amend the Constitution, you do what people in Law Enforcement have been asking for a while, start listing these folk and organisations as terrorists .
    Of course you would need a President of the USA to get that done, which you are lacking at the present.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill, freedom of speech is a powerful thing. Your last banner says it all reminding me of the line from the first Spider-Man movie – “with great power comes great responsibility.”

    This is why the President’s words were so alarming last year after Charlottesville. He should have been criticized even more than he was. As you recall, he doubled down on his racist remarks after first backing away. Is the President a racist – absolutely? Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • With every single right or privilege comes an accompanying responsibility. Far too many fail to see that. Oh yes, Trump is definitely a racist … but heck, we knew that the day he threw his hat in the ring in mid-2015 and gave that speech about Mexicans being criminals and racists. Then a short while later he was urging African-Americans to vote for him because “what do you got to lose?” Abe Lincoln he ain’t!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jill, when he uttered the words equating white supremacists to people who are fighting for equal rights, he greatly elevated the cause of white supremacists. Their literature revealed how delighted they were. By itself, this was an extremely troubling lack of leadership, unless you are David Duke. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yep … it was if he was giving them a license to proceed with their agenda. From what I’ve read, though, the white nationalist/supremacist groups are rather falling apart. Richard Spencer is not getting donations and his last rally only got about 15 or so supporters. Hopefully they will fall further by the wayside.

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  3. White supremacists seem to think it is okay to verbally and even actively attack others, but the cowards hate it if they are verbally or actively attacked. Then they hide behind the First Amendment. I think it is time to start dialogue between supremacists and others to find out what is really behind all the hatred. I don’t believe it is race or nationality or religion etc. per se, but rather not understanding that differences are what makes us human.
    I know a lot of this hatred is passed down from parent to child, from teacher to student, from powerful to powerless. I think it is time to interrupt that cycle. Do they really understand why they hate?

    Liked by 3 people

    • As Oscar Hammerstein wrote in “South Pacific” which is about racism, “You have to be carefully taught by the time you are seven or eight, you have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” No one is born to be a bigot. This movie is very powerful. Keith

      Liked by 1 person

    • You make some good points. In many cases, no, they have no idea why they hate. Because their daddy did, or their friend told them that blacks are ‘stupid’ or ‘dirty’. It is passed from generation to generation. Also, I think the hate is a manifestation of fear. Some embrace that which is different, but the bigots fear that which is different, that which they do not understand. And rather than try to gain understanding, it is easier to hate, to attempt, in some cases, to eradicate. It is way past time to interrupt that cycle, but … I don’t know how to start it. Education? Hasn’t done much to help so far. Religion definitely is NOT the answer, for it perpetuates the hate. Good, thought-provoking comment, my friend!

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      • It is all the above reasons, but what makes some people with hating or abusive parents change, while others keep the cycle going. My father was very abusive, and most of my siblings changed, but two abused their children, and their wives.so, in my opinion, there is more to it than nurture (in reverse).
        But whatever it is, we can’t go into discussions with haters by mistreating them, or playing a yelling game. Granted, it will take great patience, but everyone has to be treated with respect before hearts and minds can meet. We must do all we can to make such meetings happen.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You do like to make me think, don’t you? 😉 That is probably a question better asked of my friend Herb, the anthropologist, but off the top of my head, I would say environment. The people they meet, the education they receive, the places they go, jobs they do, etc. BUT … I recently asked the same question about my two oldest children. Sixteen months apart, same parents, raised in the same household. Daughter Chris has two nursing degrees and a computer science degree, is a nurse-supervisor, works hard and is dedicated to her job. Doesn’t drink, smoke or even curse. Son Michael has been addicted to drugs for years, has been in prison more than once, has never held a job for very long, has stolen from me, and believes the world owes him a living. They are, by the way, 47 & 46 years of age. Why the 180 degree difference?

          I know you are right, but it sure is hard sometimes to treat with respect somebody who is a bigot, or so stupid that they refuse to even think that Trump may be making mistakes. Sigh.

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          • Thank you for such intimate info. But it demonstrates my point, the parents only have so much effect on their children, it isn’t under their control how the child will grow up no matter what you teach them as a child. Of the ten kids my mother had, I’m the only one who ever ended up in prison, and that was only for a three month stay. I learned from that experience, and never went back. But that is another story…
            Hatred, and abuse, those are crimes of a whole different nature. They hurt people in their hearts and minds, even when the body might not be involved. Minds and hearts do not heal as easily as bodies, and those are much more insidious. They can change a person inside, not just outside.
            I think I better shut up now. I could go on forever..

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  4. Excellent post, Jill. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was included in The Canada Act 1982 – our most recent amendment to the constitution. (See: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html) Pierre Trudeau decided to entrench our rights in constitutional law as America did in 1787. However, there was a proviso included allowing federal and provincial lawmakers to place reasonable restrictions on the rights listed. The Supreme Court decides on all challenges to any restrictions passed.

    I’m no constitutional expert but I heartily agree with your position that the U.S. Constitution needs to be updated. Alas, that would never happen under Trump or any other GOP administration. Part of the problem with certain rights that cause issues for many in your society are the foolish Supreme Court rulings over the years that have violated the intent of the rights as stated in the Constitution – the most glaring example is the Second Amendment. As well, the overwhelming bulk of the work undertaken in such an overhaul should not be done by the politicians in the federal or state congresses. Those elected bodies should enter the process for debate and approval of suggestions made by a citizen committee. I hope this happens some day soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you John! And thanks for that link! I am going to spend a bit of time going over it, noting differences and similarities between our systems.

      It only stands to reason that the framers of the original constitution could not possibly predict the changes that would take place in the coming decades, let alone centuries. For example, at the founding, slaves were considered to be only 3/5 of a person, and women weren’t considered to be even people! It needs a tweaking from time-to-time, but you are quite right … ain’t gonna happen under Trump & Co. The 2nd amendment will be a tough fight and I am guessing that 10-20 even 30 years from now, not much will have changed there. You know the only thing that might … maybe change it? If there is a mass shooting either in the White House or in Congress. Even read any Tom Clancy?

      No, I would not like it to be done by the politicians, but neither, I think by citizen’s committees, at least not solely. I think perhaps a committee comprised of both constitutional law scholars (Obama would fit right into this category) and informed, educated citizens who are NOT in the upper 1% of income/wealth. By that time, I will have reincarnated as a wolf wandering around in Scotland!

      Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Agree with everything you say, but…the biggest issue would be people feeling intimidated or distressed by one’s speech. Who and how do you decide what is intimidating or distressing? How do you decide if a person should “feel” intimidated or distressed? There is speech and actions from others that bothers me, but may not bother everyone. Could CNN say they felt intimidated by that video he made showing Trump hitting the CNN logo at a wrestling event? You’re right, this could be a huge slippery slope, and one I also think needs to be looked at. But be careful what we wish for…enjoyed your post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • When I’m forced to turn off the TV because of horrific violence , not just on the odd occasion but more and more frequently I’m not at all surprised it has spread to the streets and other public places. The implication is that we must be able to see and hear verbal and physical abuse with out flinching , and that adults should be immune to these things. Contrast this with the threat to remove children from their parents because they allow them to walk to school or the park without an adult escort. Judging by the content of the media that feeds us daily we are becoming conditioned to these things , and many fear that censorship will spoil their fun. The thoughtful censor their own tongues according to the company around them, and get no pleasure from inciting others to anger and violence.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I fully agree with you. Even prime-time television is not something I would allow a child to watch any more. I once asked a co-worker to please curtail her use of the f-bomb, for I found hearing it 30-40 times a day offensive (I’m not beneath using it on occasion myself, but not every other word!). She lit into me, told me to ‘grow up’ and informed me that I needed to move into the 20th century and “put on my big-girl panties”. It’s a different culture than what I grew up in, and not headed in a good direction. Sadly, we are becoming de-sensitized to much of the violence and hate speech … it is becoming the new norm.

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    • You make an excellent point! Some people are stressed by a small ripple, while for others it practically takes a tsunami to shake them. An example … a few days ago I wrote about a woman who called the police on two young Native American men on a college tour. They were doing nothing but trying to learn about a college, but she called the police because she thought they “looked different … didn’t fit in”, or some such nonsense. So yes, that is nearly impossible to define across the board, and if left to the discretion of the courts … well, you can only imagine that nightmare! That spoof clip you mention … I wasn’t threatened or intimidated, but rather infuriated that the leader of a nation could stoop so low. Now, on the flip side, in my local bookstore a while back, a man bent over to get a magazine and I saw a gun sticking out of his waistband … I hightailed it out of there. THAT, to me, is intimidating. I really wanted to go smack him upside the head with my book, but common sense prevailed and I just left. But I digress … you do make a very valid point, and thank you for the compliment!

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    • Many thanks for the re-blog!!! There are people in every nation of the world that get it wrong. We just happen to have leadership, if one can call it that, who also gets it wrong, and it rather sets the tone for the nation. And remember, also, that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil. These jerks get so much attention that it sometimes leaves us feeling as if they are the majority, while in truth, they are not. Many hugs!!!

      Liked by 2 people

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