Thursday, June 23, 2005

Mass Congressmen Vote to Repeal 1st Amendment

The Herald had a story today listing the Massachusetts Congressmen who voted in favor of a Constitutional amendment that would ban flag desecration. I'm sure that Congressmen Lynch, Delahunt, Neal and McGovern did this because they thought it was the right thing to do -- to protect an important symbol of our freedom. To my mind, though, they voted for nothing less than a partial repeal of the First Amendment.

Here's the thing, burning the flag is an offensive, counterproductive, insulting thing to do. The people who engage in this kind of protest are too short-sighted (or small-minded) to realize that this completely turns people off to whatever message they're trying to send and for good reason. That said, is there really such an epidemic of flag desecration that we need to change the fundamental document from which all of our rights and freedoms are derived? I don't think the potential consequences are worth it, and frankly I think that job number one for anyone who cares about limiting the scope of government should be to not mess with the Constitution.

Now, I'm certainly not a Constitutional lawyer, but I worry about the implications of an amendment that abridges First Amendment rights -- no matter how narrow. Once the door is open to outlawing a certain type of speech -- obviously political speech, no less -- then the Constitutional protection on all other forms of speech has been weakened. The powers that be are already trying to equate dissent with treason; do we really want the right to free political speech to be open for reinterpretation?

A similar point could be made about privacy rights. Generally, the courts have determined that we have the right to privacy because there is nothing in the Constitution that governs intrapersonal relationships. If we, however, end up putting an amendment that defines marriage in our Constitution, that will no longer be true, and our right to privacy could be in jeopardy.

The Constitution has been amended only 18 times since the Bill of Rights was adopted. We should make sure that we take it as seriously as it deserves.