Lately I have been having conversations about the difference between rights and privileges and what, exactly, do they mean. One conversation I had recently turned into an accusation that I wanted to take away the rights of Christians. Not only is this not true, it flies in the face of everything I stand for which is, by the way, outlined in the Bill of Rights! So, dear readers, today I am going to cover the First Amendment and I will follow-up with a discussion on the other nine amendments in the coming days.
So, what do you think the First Amendment says? Does it specifically outline a separation of church and state? The left will say yes and the right will say no but the true answer is no...a literal understanding of the First Amendment does not mention anything about separating church and state. It does, however, IMPLY a separation of church and state. Now before my Conservative Christian readers get their panties in a twist let me ask another question. What, exactly, does the First Amendment say?
In an exact quote of the First Amendment we read, "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."
The very first line, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." says it all. Congress cannot pass legislation that specifically favors one religion nor can they prohibit individuals from practicing the religion of their choice. To some, like me, that implies a separation of church and state simply because it prohibits the state from declaring one religion as the religion of the state. To break it down further; the government is not allowed to tell you how to worship your higher power and they cannot prevent you from worshipping your higher power. To me, this also means an individual should be able to not practice any religion at all, if that is what they wish. In other words freedom OF religion for the individual also means freedom FROM religion for the other individual.
Just because I consistently rant about the so-called Christians in this country does not mean I want them to not have the right to worship. Nope, not one bit. I will defend their right to go to church and worship their Higher Power any time they want. What I won't put up with is these same people knocking on my door at all hours to "spread the word of God" or to "save me" or anything else of that manner. What turns my stomach is when I see these same Christians behaving like animals all the while looking down their noses at anyone different from them. Just like my favorite bumper sticker says, "I've got nothing against God...it's His fan club I can't stand" If you love Jesus, fine, just leave me out of it...leave me alone! So, how can that be confused with wanting to take away Christians' rights? It just doesn't wash.
Okay, now let's go to the second line, "...or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." Again, this is pretty self-explanatory to me. Simply put, the government is not allowed to control what you can or cannot say and the government is not allowed to censor the press. Freedom of speech means just that; you can say anything you want about any subject you want any time you want. Everybody is entitled to voice their opinion on any subject they choose! Lately though, I have been seeing and hearing a lot of talk about censoring certain people or certain shows because they are deemed "inflammatory" or "harmful to children"...and there is only one thing I say to those that espouse this censorship, "BULLCRAP!!!" Just because YOU disagree with my opinion does not give you the right to shout me down or shut me up...and vice versa...I may not like your opinion but I'll be damned before I let anybody else prevent you from voicing your opinion!
That said, you must understand that if I disagree with your opinion, I am going to let you know just that. If I think your opinion is unfounded, baseless or just plain silly, I am going to tell you just that. Exactly as I would expect you to do to me if you disagree with my opinion. What you WON'T do, however, is shut me up simply because I disagree with you just as I won't shut you up. There is a clear-cut difference there, and it puzzles me as to why so many people can't seem to understand that most basic concept.
Now, on to the third and final part of this wonderful Amendment, "...or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." So what do you think this means? If you think it means people are allowed to protest PEACEFULLY, then you would be right. If you think it means being able to write your Representatives and Senators to air your grievances without fear of repercussion, you would be right. If, however, you said it allows people to protest as long as they don't burn the flag or chant "End the War" or anything else of the sort, you would be dead wrong.
For example, I do not like anti-war protesters, I think they're nuts. I despise the good Reverend Phelps in Kansas whose flock protests the funerals of our fallen military men and women...BUT...as long as they do not physically harm anyone, they are perfectly within their rights to protest. What I WILL DO is be there with the Patriot Guard forming a protective circle around the grieving family to shield them from the insensitive, self-involved, and totally completely nuckin futs Kansas Bible Thumpers. So, how hard is it to see this basic concept? It's pretty damned hard, I can tell you, because those protesters make my blood boil and there would be nothing I would like more than to punch Fred Phelps right in his smarmy mouth.
So you see, folks, this First Amendment, along with the other nine amendments, guarantees certain rights to everybody regardless if everyone agrees or not. Personally, I think flag burners deserve to get their butts handed to them because they are a bunch of ungrateful bastards...but it doesn't matter what I think; they are allowed the right to do that and it does not matter whether or not I like it. So if you want to proclaim your Christianity and look down your nose at me, fine, that is your right...but you DON'T have the right to cry foul and accuse me of trying to take away your rights whenever I publicly bitch about you...understand? I certainly hope so.