Monthly Archives: September 2017

The First Amendment – Hide and Seek

I know I had it. Did I lose it?

“I know I put that somewhere. Where could it be?”

We’ve all probably said that more than once. We had something. It was important. But now it seems lost—forever? Most things we usually locate again. If you’re like my husband and me, the thing we’re searching for could be in a completely ridiculous place, like airplane glue in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Or right in front of our eyes, and we simply do not see it until someone says, “Is this what you’re looking for? It’s right here!”

It seems our First Amendment has done a disappearing act, too. Oh, everybody knows there is a First Amendment, and many know vaguely that it refers to freedom of speech and religion, but more and more that’s as far as knowledge goes. This is very apparent from what we’re seeing happen on our college campuses. Certain speakers cannot be invited to speak on campus, or their invitation is withdrawn after being accepted. The reason often given now is “a matter of public safety.” Students are rioting if someone with ideas they differ with dares to show up. They claim their riotous behavior is allowed under the First Amendment. Where did these young people learn the meaning of the First Amendment? From their parents? In middle school or high school? Or were they ever taught anything about it at all except what they picked up from the public rhetoric of people with an agenda?

People other than me were wondering about this, too. Brookings Institution published a survey of undergrads designed to find out how they viewed their rights under the First Amendment. You can read all about it here, but let me share a few of the results.

The term “odious” is rightfully used for what is designated as “hate speech,” but Americans can use that type of language to their hearts content, for it is protected speech under the First Amendment. However the study revealed that only 39% of those surveyed knew it was protected—44% said it wasn’t, and 16% simply didn’t know.

A question asked if an on-campus organization hosting an event is legally required to ensure that the event includes not only the speaker some consider offensive, but also a speaker who presents an opposing view—62% said “Yes” and 38% “No.” The First Amendment has no such requirement.

The majority of students (51%) also believed it was acceptable to shout and be disruptive when opposed to the ideas of a speaker, even to the point that the audience cannot hear the speaker. A FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) website article says that while a heckling shout is permissible, “Make no mistake: When a heckler thinks he or she has the right to forcibly prevent others from hearing a speaker and uses heckling as a blunt instrument to silence speech, heckling cannot be condoned as free expression.”

It gets worse. When asked if they agreed or disagreed that it is acceptable to use violence to prevent the speaker from speaking, 19% said that was acceptable behavior. John Villasenor, who conducted the survey, wrote:

These results are notable for several reasons. First, the fraction of students who view the use of violence as acceptable is extremely high. While percentages in the high teens and 20s are “low” relative to what they could be, it’s important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning. (Emphasis added.)

Please, parents, if your kids are starting college, warn them about their rights under our Constitution. Don’t let them get misled and in trouble with the law because “everybody’s doing it.” If your kids are younger, teach them now to respect our Constitution, and honor the Bill of Rights. If you don’t, they may never learn about that in school.

And another suggestion: let them know that obscenity may not be protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has a lot to say about that. If more of the public, including high-profile entertainers and TV opinion shows, knew they could be prosecuted for foul language, maybe we wouldn’t have to listen to all the bleep-outs in the evening news.

Let me know if your kids are learning about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in school.