If you spend much time at all on the Internet, you’ll come across quite a few constitutional scholars. The problem is, most don’t know what they’re talking about.
Not that you’ll ever convince them of that. And believe me, I’ve tried, and I really shouldn’t have because it accomplished nothing but raising my blood pressure.
I can’t claim to be the most knowledgeable on the U.S. Constitution, and certainly not our far too easily amended Arkansas Constitution, but I’ve taken constitutional law (with a professor who looked a bit like Charles Nelson Reilly, of all people), plus the communication law and ethics class that all communications majors were required to take (yeah, don’t challenge most journalists on First Amendment issues; we tend to know our stuff). Plus, I know more than enough lawyers, law-school professors and judges to consult if I’m unsure of something.
So when I see people claiming they’re being censored, or they scream that the Second Amendment “shall not be infringed,” well … let’s just say that when I’m suffering from a migraine hangover, what comes from my fingers will be a little unpredictable. It’s most likely correct, but probably also at least a little testy.
I’ve really got to stop getting on the Internet when I don’t feel well. Or, for that matter, responding, even simply and kindly, to emails from someone who claims a newspaper chain is “censoring” its reporters from receiving his emails; my polite “Please stop sending these” was met with a two-word vulgarity.
Well … OK. I think his attitude might have something to do with that chain blocking him … and his sending 5,000 emails in the space of a month (according to a letter shared on his media site, which I won’t link to because he doesn’t need the clicks) … and his misunderstanding of the First Amendment and how reporters do their jobs.
He also appears to be a bit nuts (and not the fun kind), so there’s that.
Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information. The chain wouldn’t be censoring its reporters by blocking emails, but the sender of the emails. Any private entity is well within its rights to block spam, and 5,000 emails a month—generally just with links to the media site and no way to unsubscribe other than to send an email and get a vulgar reply—certainly qualify. Lucky us whose companies publish their email addresses online, because we get the joy of receiving unsolicited craziness on a regular basis. Heck, my newspaper might soon be on his hit list since I alerted higher-ups of his emails to me and others.
The Constitution offers no protection from censorship by private entities; it only applies to the government. Individuals have freedom of speech, but there is nothing that compels a company or person to listen to it or to publish it (for Internet platforms, this is where those “Terms of Service” agreements mean that a platform can take something down if you fail to comply).
Further, all of our rights come with responsibilities (which means you must act in accordance with the law), and all of those amendments to the Constitution (yes, even the Second) have limitations. (And for all you originalists out there, why is the Second Amendment the exception when you interpret amendments in the context of the times in which they were adopted?)
Sure, you can say what you want, but libel, incitement to riot and the like will be met with consequences, and being a jerk will probably lose you friends. You can pray in public school, but it can’t be compulsory, disrupt school operations or be led or sanctioned by government employees. You have the right to bear arms, but that doesn’t mean you have access to any type of weapon you want, or that you can carry that weapon anywhere you want.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion:
“There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment ’s right of free speech was not, see, e.g., United States v. Williams, 553 U. S. ___ (2008). Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose. Before turning to limitations upon the individual right, however, we must determine whether the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment comports with our interpretation of the operative clause. …
“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”District of Columbia, 478 F. 3d 370, 401 (2007)
Oh, so we can impose reasonable restrictions (think universal background checks and red-flag laws, which consistently draw high levels of support among Americans), according to conservative icon Scalia? Well, whadya know!?
And for all those “scholars” retorting that “the Constitution is clear” on the Second Amendment (that whole “shall not be infringed” thing), I invite you to read the writings of actual scholars—people whose careers are based around interpretation of the Constitution—because the thing that seems clear is that the Second Amendment is unclear (but clearly a grammatical nightmare).
And not unlimited. Just like the rest of them.
And unlike the arguments against reasonable gun control, which are repeated ad nauseam (it won’t work, look at cities with strict gun control, etc.). This is why I need someone to hold me back before I tire myself out batting back the same arguments to no avail.
Seriously, people, stop me before I use logic again in service of a futile mission.
Part of living in a civil society is that you must obey rules. There are the things you must do, like paying taxes or appearing in court if summoned, and consequences such as fines and jail time for not doing so. There are also things you should do, such as voting, respecting and protecting the rights of others, and protecting the common good. Sometimes the consequences for violating those aren’t obvious, but they are there.
For those in government who don’t respect and protect the rights of others, the consequence might be losing your job in favor of someone who will (ahem, all of Arkansas’ legislative seats will be up for election next year because of redistricting, so if you’re ticked off about this year’s legislative session, this is the perfect time for a change). For everyone else, don’t be surprised when you lose friends who believe that everyone, no matter their racial, sexual, gender or religious identity, deserves the same rights you take for granted.
We don’t have individual bubbles, so what we say and do can have effects far beyond us. We can’t keep pretending that we are the only people who matter and deserve rights. We also can’t exercise those rights without accepting the responsibilities that come with them, especially when we misuse or abuse those rights.
You know what they say about karma …
Some say the same thing about me. Usually when I disagree with them.