Rights And Freedoms — Part II — Freedom Of Religion

As I noted in my post of December 2nd, I am doing a brief ‘mini-series’ about ‘rights’ as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and how they are often abused or misinterpreted.  This post is Part II of that series.

1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 15 December 1791

The ‘freedoms’ that are guaranteed to the people of this nation under the U.S. Constitution are often misunderstood, sometimes intentionally, and other times out of genuine confusion.  But I would like to make one thing very clear … a ‘right’ is a right for everyone.  If I give you a chocolate bar and tell you it’s okay to eat it, that doesn’t give you the right to force someone else to eat a chocolate bar.

Specifically today I’m addressing a touchy topic:  freedom of religion.  Let’s start with the facts.  This is what the First Amendment has to say about it …

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

These are known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.  Together with the constitutional provision prohibiting religious tests as a qualification for office these clauses promote individual freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Where in this simple sentence does it state or imply that any one religion is the sole or ‘official’ religion of the country?  Where does it say that one person has the right to force another to share their beliefs or values?  It doesn’t.  It doesn’t actually even say that anybody has the right to any religion, only that Congress shall not make laws regarding religion or prohibiting religious practices.  For some, that would be enough.  Ask an atheist living in Iran … they would be thrilled to have such freedom.

Through the years, freedom of religion has been interpreted to mean one thing and another, and in recent years still another.  One of the most significant areas of debate is LGBTQ rights.  Let’s return for a moment to the chocolate bar analogy.  Say Judy is allergic to chocolate and cannot eat it, but her neighbor Bobby loves chocolate and is not allergic.  Now, Judy certainly has a right to steer clear of the Cadbury, just as Bobby has a right to buy it and devour it.  Are you with me so far?  What would you say, though, if Judy tried to make it illegal for anybody on her street to buy or eat chocolate simply because she cannot eat it?  Laughable, yes?

But it isn’t laughable when a person whose religious beliefs are that marriage can only be between a male and a female as identified at birth tries to force their views on an entire nation of 330 million people!  Okay, nobody is going to tell those people they can’t believe that, for it is their right.  However, not everyone shares those beliefs.  Other people who do not belong to person A’s church and do not share their beliefs, have rights too.  Joe and Thom have a right to fall in love and marry by law in most states, yet there are some who would take that right from them because and only because it is not in sync with their own religious beliefs.  I’m trying to be nice here, but that is bigotry, plain and simple.  It is saying that you do not have a right to be different than person A.  It is every bit as wrong as saying that Black people don’t have a right to live in your neighborhood or Jewish people don’t have a right to send their children to the same school your children go to, or women don’t have a right to earn the same pay as men for the same job.

Nowhere in the Constitution or any other government document does it say that one religion takes precedence over another.  You have the right to be you, and I have the right to be me, and Joe has the right to be him, as long as we do no harm to others by exercising our rights.  For Joe and Thom to be in love and marry does no harm to anybody, and yet … and yet millions of people would like to see their marriage declared illegal, would like to take away their rights. 

Religion is a choice, and here in the United States it is a choice that we are fortunate to be able to make freely, for there is no state-sponsored religion, no Sharia law, no religious mandates such as there are in other countries.  We should exercise that freedom as we see fit … each of us as individuals … but we should not attempt to force our views on others, for that is depriving them of their rights.  It’s all a matter of respect.  Live and let live.  Why is that so hard for some to understand?

Rights And Freedoms — Part I — Freedom of Speech

1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 15 December 1791


Throughout the centuries, very few limitations have been placed on the First Amendment even as people pushed the envelope using it as cover for everything from child pornography to outright threats of violence.  Let’s make something perfectly clear up front here, since today all I hear is people proclaiming their ‘rights’:  Your freedom, your ‘right’ stops where it crosses the line of another person’s freedom or rights.  Period.

You have a right to exercise your freedom of religion by holding a religious ceremony for whatever purpose you see fit, but you cannot hold it on my lawn.  You have a right to tell me what you think of me, but not to threaten me or my family with bodily harm.  And I have a right to set limits in my own home, such as you do NOT have a right to bring a gun into my home. 

Two of my overseas friends last week, David in the UK and Andrea in Australia, both made essentially the same comment, that the United States has too many of the wrong sort of freedoms.  I didn’t have to think about it long … about 15 seconds, I think … to realize that they are both right and that I fully agree.  Our Constitution gives us a number of rights, but we have abused them, for we seem not to remember that with rights come responsibilities.  You have a right to say what you think, but also a responsibility not to cause harm.  You have a right to worship as you please, but also a responsibility to recognize and honour the fact that others have the same right and may not share your same views.

I was a teen during the Vietnam War years when protesting was almost a career for some, and yet I never saw the same sort of hatred, the incitement for violence, the outright lies that I am seeing in our country today.  Sure, young people were angry in the 1960s that our government was sending our young men – brothers, boyfriends, husbands – to fight a war halfway across the world that we knew could not be won.  But we didn’t threaten to kill.  We knew better than to cross certain lines of decency.

Not long ago, the Republican Party issued an edict of sorts claiming that the seditious attempted coup on January 6th 2021 was “Legitimate Political Discourse”.  My jaw still drops when I hear that.  NO, IT WAS NOT!  Police officers died defending the Capitol and democracy on that day. Property belonging to We the People was damaged, there were threats to the lives of Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi. And the goal was to overturn the will of the people, to deny our voices, to essentially overturn the United States government and the Constitution. It was not discourse, it was not civil, and it was NOT what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind back in 1787. 

I cannot condone, nor should anyone condone, the use of foul language or threats of bodily harm … that is not ‘freedom of speech’, that is incitement of violence.  When people condemn or threaten those in the LGBTQ+ community, that is NOT freedom of speech … that is robbing someone else of the freedom to live in safety, being who they are.  Again … your freedom STOPS at the point where it infringes on mine or another person’s.  You do NOT have the right to dictate who a person should marry, whether a woman should have a child or not, what religion – if any – a person observes, where they live, or what they believe.

We are a nation of rights and freedoms, but we have historically abused them, never more so than in this, the 21st century.  If we continue to abuse them, we will lose them.  No, that is not hyperbole … at some point, we will lose the freedom to say what’s on our mind if we cannot do so within the confines or decency and respect.  Perhaps James Madison, the chief author of the First Amendment, gave people too much credit for humanity, compassion, and human decency.  Perhaps they did not realize that at some point, destruction and inciting violence would be classified as ‘free speech’, else they might have put some constraints on that ‘right’.  Or, perhaps people then were kinder, more deserving of a nearly unlimited freedom of speech.


We hear a lot these days about individual ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’ but very little about the responsibilities that accompany those freedoms and rights.  Over the course of the next week or two, I plan to do another post or two on other of our rights such as freedom of the press and the 2nd Amendment, the ‘right’ to bear arms.  Please feel free to make suggestions if there are other ‘rights’ you would like to see discussed.

Don’t Burn it — FIX IT!

Yesterday, I shared George Will’s idea that the U.S. Constitution needs to be amended to prohibit members of the Senate from seeking the presidency.  But y’know … there are times that I think we should be seriously considering a major overhaul of the Constitution.  It is, after all, some 232 years old and the framers of that document could not possibly have foreseen what would happen, how life would change over the centuries.

But, in todays politically charged environment, I have trouble picturing any changes that could be agreed on.  Even the simplest things, such as verbiage …

Person #1:  Let’s change the word ‘He’ to ‘They’

Person #2:  Hell no!  That would open the door to women and we don’t want women to get the idea that they are somehow the equal of a man!

A few off-the-top-of-my-head things that I think need either alteration or clarification are found in the first 10 Amendments, the Bill of Rights.  As I’ve said many times before, the 1st Amendment right to ‘free speech’ needs to have ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ added.  The 2nd Amendment should either be ditched altogether, or have restrictions, such as no more than one gun per household, and no assault weapons at all, and limits on the type and amount of ammunition that can be purchased.

I would also like to see term limits established for members of Congress:  no more than three two-year terms for Representatives and no more than two four-year terms for Senators.  And, while I don’t fully agree with George Will that no senator present or past should ever be able to run for the office of president, I do think they should not be able to transition … in other words, there should be a full term between the end of their term in Congress and their presidential bid.  That way, they wouldn’t be spending all their time campaigning (on our tax dollar) while they are supposed to be doing the work of the Senate.

I would also like to see additional qualifications required to run for president or Congress.  At the time the Constitution was written, it made sense to place minimal requirements, for few people had the opportunity for higher education, and even fewer had government experience … this was, after all, a new nation.  But today, we find ourselves saddled with the likes of Donald Trump, Madison Cawthorn, Margie Greene, Lauren Boebert, and many others who had literally no prior government experience and no relevant education.  Those I just mentioned have never even read the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold!  We had a president [sic] for four years who had never read the document to which he swore an oath, and refused to listen to advisors who had!

I also wouldn’t mind requiring a test of constitutional law for candidates for any of the three branches of government.  Right now, even a clown in a circus act can run for – and win – the presidency, as was proven in 2016.  I want to know that the people running this show at least understand the foundation of our government!

And speaking of the Judiciary branch … I think that rather than the entirety of the Senate confirming nominees to the Supreme Court, a committee consisting of an equal number from both parties should have the responsibility of confirming or denying a nominee.  Partisanship has gone too far and has nearly destroyed the integrity of the Court today, with such inappropriate Justices as Kavanaugh and Barrett.

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I think the Electoral College system has long outlived its original purpose.  It has, in recent years, done the exact opposite of what it was intended to accomplish.  The Founders believed it would help stop a madman from being elected, that sane electors would override the popular vote if the people got too wild.  Instead, it put a madman into office despite the fact that he lost the people’s vote by nearly 3 million votes!

So yes, I think the Constitution is a sound and solid document that has been a reliable foundation for centuries, and I do not advocate trashing it and starting over.  However, times changes, situations change, and the Constitution was intended to be able to grow and change with the times.  That is precisely what the Founding Fathers expected!  Trial and error has shown us some ways that the Constitution is insufficient to maintain our democratic republic.  We are on the brink, it seems, of becoming an autocratic, fascist country and I don’t think that is what most of us want.

Your thoughts?

Thoughts On “Freedom Of Speech”

“The First Amendment exists to allow all of our voices to be heard, not to grant one voice the right to drown out all others” — columnist Allison Press

We hear a lot about ‘freedom of speech’ these days.  It seems that everyone has their own idea about what, exactly, constitutes ‘free speech’.  Perhaps, had the Founding Fathers realized how our society would devolve, realized to what depraved lows the human species could sink, they would have been a bit more specific, would have included some limitations and certainly would have made note of the fact that freedom … any and every freedom … is accompanied by responsibility.  But alas, they had just come out from under the heavy thumb of Great Britain and wanted to create a nation that encouraged people to think, to speak freely and open the floor for discussion, for a meeting of the minds that would, ultimately, make this a nation that would truly be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” as Lincoln would quote some 76 years later.

Freedom of speech was included in the 1st Amendment in order to ensure that people could have a voice, could be free to express ideas and share information without fear of government censorship.  Fast forward from the writing of the Constitution to present … the year 2022.  Today, people claim free speech gives them the right to put lives in danger by refusing to wear a mask or be vaccinated against a deadly virus that has already taken the lives of over 1 million people in this nation alone.  They insist that free speech gives them the right to spread lies that lead to violence and sometimes death.  Somehow, my friends, I don’t think this is what the framers of the Constitution intended when they said …

“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.”

And yet today, a relatively small group of religious fanatics would impose their will on the rest of this nation, would see their own religious doctrine taught in schools … schools attended by children of all and no religions.  Those 45 words of the 1st Amendment have been so widely misinterpreted and expanded that people like James Madison, the chief author of the Bill of Rights that contains the 1st Amendment, would be horrified if he could see how his words have been twisted and skewed.

Out of necessity, some limitations on free speech have been quantified over the past 235 years:

  • Obscene material such as child pornography
  • Plagiarism of copyrighted material
  • Defamation (libel and slander)
  • True threats

But are those enough?  I want to ask you something … would we even need those few restrictions on free speech if everyone took seriously their responsibilities?

It is common sense … COMMON SENSE … that we should not terrorize children, should not abuse them in any way, certainly not sexually.  There could be no child pornography if all people had a conscience, if they stood by their responsibilities and respected the rights of children to simply enjoy those relatively few days of innocent childhood.  But NOOOOOO … some perverted individuals think it’s their ‘right’ to not only sexually abuse children, but then to take pictures and video of the act(s) and publish them!  What is WRONG with these people???  What is WRONG with the people who would pay money to buy this crap?

What people seem to forget, or not care about, is that words have consequences.  If you yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, the resulting mass exodus is likely to result in people being trampled and some will likely die.  And so, there is a law against doing so, since some people apparently don’t have enough sense of responsibility to think first.  In the same manner, on January 6, 2021, a number of people including the twice-impeached former president uttered words to the effect of “FIRE!” … words that stirred the masses to action, caused them to break & enter the U.S. Capitol, vandalize the building and contents, create murder & mayhem, and terrorize our lawmakers as they attempted to overthrow the government.  Inciting a riot, inciting a violent coup attempt, is not protected free speech … nor should it ever be.

Whatever happened to responsibility?  When did the people of this nation decide it is acceptable or forgivable to lie, cheat and steal?  I think about that line in that is often misattributed to the Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm.”  Shouldn’t that be the maxim by which humans measure their behaviour?  We should indeed be able to speak, to offer our opinions, but not if it leads to harm, not if it creates violence.  When we fail to accept and uphold the responsibility that accompanies any freedom, then we are certain to ultimately lose that freedom.  The same is true of free speech … if you use it for harm, to incite violence, to perpetuate a lie, then you will not only lose your own right to speak freely, but you will cost all of us that right.

‘Is This Who We Are?’ — Follow-Up

What follows is a rant … proceed with caution.

Just over a week ago, 20 November, I published a post titled Is This Who We Are? , in which I related a story of a dedicated healthcare worker in Missouri who had been threatened and harassed for her role in trying to ensure the safety of the people in her area during this pandemic, thus she was resigning her position.  The post, oddly, proved somewhat controversial with some readers essentially shrugging their shoulders and saying, “Oh well … live and let live.”

One comment on that post that came in a few days later, however, broke my heart and for a week now it has weighed on my mind.  This reader is a blogging friend whom I have never met and likely never will, but over the course of the last several years, we have communicated and bonded through our blogs, Facebook, and the occasional email, so I feel a personal connection to her.  Last night, still disturbed by it, I was reading the comment to my daughter and granddaughter, and at some point, I realized my voice was cracking and tears had filled my eyes.  This woman is about my age and is one of the most decent human beings I know.  She has recently undergone some serious health issues and yet is still trying her best to help people … and paying a steep price.  I share with you her comment, for many of you likely have not seen it …

“Jill, I haven’t been blogging much lately…mostly because my husband (the registered nurse) and I (chem dep counselor) have been volunteering at our city public health department, making calls to follow up on active covid cases. As the months have gone on we’ve received nasty emails, drive-bys at our home, two heaping piles of manure left on our front porch and truck, signs left in the front yard saying we are traitors, communists, fear-mongerers, and worse. I have received two death threats…my husband more because he is doing actual testing then follow up calls. Our local police have now made it a habit to drive by our home on a daily basis just to make sure we are okay. We have been spit upon at stores for wearing masks, one person came up and coughed all over me…it is beyond the pale. Yes, unfortunately this is who we are. Half of us responsible and worried about everyone and half just mean reprehensible people. I’m supposed to be at the health department right now, but the emergency road guy is changing all four of our slashed tires. I don’t recognize my country anymore. And I ache for the “good old days” when a president was a worthy man and our people were civil. I have my volunteer resignation letter in hand and will be giving it to the public health coordinator when I go in today. Two months and I can not take it anymore. I am frankly afraid to leave my home…and NOT due to a fear of getting sick. I am more afraid of being murdered.”

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?????  Fortunately, I am reasonable enough, intelligent enough to realize that this is NOT representative of all people, that there ARE good people in this world who would risk their very lives to help others.  But anybody who acts in this manner does not, in my opinion, deserve life on earth.  The United States is a nation of almost excessive ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’, but as I have said many, many times, each ‘right’ is accompanied by a responsibility.  Shirk the responsibility and you lose the right … it’s that damn simple.  NOBODY in this country has the right to threaten or harass another person.  NOBODY has the right to endanger the lives of others for their own personal convenience or pleasure.  IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!!!  It’s a simple concept of people of all colours, all beliefs, all ages, living on this planet together, helping each other when needed, living in peace.  Why is that so hard for some people?

In other comments on that same post, one reader said that forcing a mask mandate equated to a “fascist dictator telling you what to do”, and another claimed that government has no right to tell him how to live or interact with his fellow humans.  BULLSHIT on both counts.  We have a government because … humans have proven they need rules, they crave rules, for left to their own devices, they will hurt, kill, and maim … for pleasure.

Every Wednesday I do a feature titled “Good People Doing Good Things”, which is typically my most popular post of any given week.  We like to hear about people helping others … we just apparently don’t like to BE that person who gives, rather than takes.

Anybody who refuses to wear a mask, who refuses to stay home rather than hang out in a crowded bar or restaurant, is putting my life and yours in danger.  Anybody who threatens someone who is dedicating their own time and energy to trying to keep us all safe is a GRADE-A JACKASS and frankly does not, in my book, deserve to be taking up space on the already-crowded planet.

To my friend who has been the victim of such vicious threats and attacks, I apologize on behalf of the human species.  To those who think they have a right to put our lives in danger … I hope you choke on a turnip.

Coexist