Monday, July 27, 2020

The Bill Of Rights Is Not A Menu

     You don't get to pick and choose among the items in the Bill of Rights.  They all apply.

     Whenever I write about the First Amendment, I get the same kind of pushback and quibbling that shows up whenever use-of-force, especially firearms, is under discussion.  In use-of-force, people ask, "So I can shoot the bad guys when...?" and spin scenarios.  It's the wrong question, framed the wrong way.  It's not "can" or even "should."  It's "must," as in, "When must I shoot?"  Certainly, no sooner the necessary and only in response to an articulable deadly threat; persons with far more training and experience than I have are better able to address that.

     On the First Amendment, people still think it must have implied exceptions and secret codicils -- surely it cannot protect unpatriotic thoughts or writings?  Surely it doesn't protect silly people who think being required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance constitutes flag-worship?*  Surely the press can be be chivvied away or even arrested when their presence inconveniences the police?

     The last question is usually phrased, "When the police have issued a lawful order to disperse...." Such orders are usually issued to rioters; if a reporter is directly participating in the riot rather than gathering news, sure, the order applies.  By the same token, a person in a blue vest marked PRESS, taking pictures, shooting video, recording audio or taking notes is, in fact, not rioting, and the order to disperse does not apply to them.  Doesn't make any difference if they're on the sidelines or in the rioting crowd, though the latter location does expose them to whatever dispersal methods the police might then use.

     No, journalists aren't special.  What is protected is the activity, and it is essential to our freedoms.  When police can operate in secret, hidden in night and fog, suppressing reports of their actions, there is no check on them.  Conversely, a police force that attempts to conceal public acts cannot be assumed to be operating in the public interest.

     A free country does not suppress ideas.  A free country does not abide police acting in secret when public demonstrations get out of hand.

     You cannot defeat bad ideas by suppressing them -- and the best way to show up violent nitwits as dangerous fools rather than role models is to shine a light on them, and on fair and responsible police and civic action to render justice.  That can't be done in the dark.

     The Bill of Rights isn't an a la carte menu; undermining part of it weakens all the rest.
* It most certainly does, though it took a whole series of court cases to decide.  I cited the case in my previous post.

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