First-Amendment Inclusiveness

The same First Amendment which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of speech, also puts a qualifier on it as “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. At first blush those words are taken to mean that citizens have the right to congregate, whether that be to exercise the First-Amendment freedoms or to seek government redress of grievances; however, those words could just as easily be read to condition all First-Amendment freedoms upon a righteous purpose (as opposed to simply distinguishing civil gatherings from lawlessness and rioting). I take the point that hostility or confrontation or anything else that is unkind has no proper place in civil society, but I would, however, suggest that when people object to religion, those people do so with a subtextual nod at evangelical Christianity. Yes, evangelicals are more conspicuous, but this gives rise to an odd First-Amendment paradox: There is no First Amendment right/protection concerning the offensiveness of another’s first amendment right to offend. One might take offense from the exercise of the vilest and most irredeemable speech, but that speech must still be protected. The exercise of faith might annoy and offend, but it must be upheld. The moment that one freedom is restrained, it creates a precedent to restrain the others. As Thomas Paine wrote in 1775, “he that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” To polish the other side of the coin a bit, the First Amendment also provides for calling an asshole out for being an asshole. I realize that not everyone is adequately assertive to speak truth to assholes—and the hypothecated assholes clearly should be more considerate—but why should less-expressive Americans excoriate the more-expressive Americans rather than simply saddling-up and using their equal First-Amendment rights to tell the asshats to leave them the fuck alone? Don’t mistake this as blaming-the-victim, but rather stop-playing-the-victim. To affirmatively exclude religion is the same as practicing non-religion. True neutrality treats religion as speech/expression. If the government bans uttering “shit” today, it will ban uttering “fuck” tomorrow. To exclude profanity passes judgment on the validity of words. If America is represented by x-y-z and if we are commanded to treat all letters equally, and if we say that we will neither endorse nor revile any single letter, but then limit acceptable language to only [w] and [z] to the exclusion of [y], haven’t we condemned and excluded [y] even without ever explicitly doing so? When other people shit their pants, it’s probably time to tell them to wipe their ass rather than excluding them from participation. Who knows but any of us could be as equally unpalatable in our own ways.

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