The first amendment: “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 Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution because some of our founding fathers did not believe our nation’s highest law sufficiently protected the civil rights of individuals. The first amendment protected the citizens of the new country from requiring they belong to a state supported religion, as our founders were in England. The remainder of the amendment involves freedom of speech in its many forms, and the freedom to complain about our government.
Throughout our country’s history, our elected officials have often ignored the first amendment.
In 1798 John Adams, whose Federalist Party controlled the White House and Congress, passed several acts. The most controversial of them was The Sedition Act. It became illegal for anyone to criticize the government, the Congress, or the President orally or through writing. (During the first year the act took affect, the only people who went to prison were Republicans, Adams’ opposition.)
Montana, May, 2006. Governor Brian Schweitzer officially pardoned 78 people who had been convicted of crimes in 1918. Their crime, sedition. They simply criticized the government. Three of the 78 had written something critical, the rest simply said something aloud and were turned in by their friends and neighbors.
The original Act of Sedition had been repealed thanks to the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and his Republican Party. In 1918, with WWI raging in Europe, Woodrow Wilson urged another ratification of The Sedition Act. It became illegal to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag”. It went so far as to allow the Postmaster General to refuse delivery of any publication which he assumed was critical of the government’s war effort. In essence the Act made it illegal to criticize the government in any way, including in the press.
Eugene Debs who, in 1912 was the leader of the Socialist Party, and Wilson’s opponent in the election, made a speech against the war in 1918. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Rosa Pastor Stokes, another Socialist and feminist was arrested for writing a letter to the Editor of the Kansas City Star saying, “no government that is for the profiteers can also be for the people. I am for the people, while the government is for the profiteers”. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
More than 1500 people across the United States were arrested under the Act until it was repealed in 1921.
We now have the “Patriot Act”. After the attack on 9/11, George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law on October 26, 2001. What the Act allows is a reduction in restrictions over law enforcement, allowing them to gather intelligence more easily. It empowered the Department of the Treasury to control financial transactions, particularly those of foreign individuals or entities. It gave law enforcement and immigration broad authority to detain or deport those suspected of terrorism related acts. It expanded the term terrorism to include domestic terrorism which gave authorities broad powers over numerous activities by individuals.
Criticism has been rampant. Opponents point out that it gives authorities the ability to indefinitely detain immigrants, grants power to the FBI to search telephone records, e mails, and financial records without a court order. It goes so far as to allow government agencies to search financial and library records.
I read recently that some extremists believe President Obama is attempting to turn us into a Communist nation, or at least enact some of Karl Marx’ ideas. George W. Bush began the trend to allow our government to take fascist and communistic acts against America’s citizens.
All government is bad, because those who hold office have power over the lives of the common man. Some are worse than others, and ours has a favorability rating of 9%.
Columnist-The Guardian Express