We hear often that we are a nation of laws and that the rule of law is paramount in our democratic experiment. That is largely true, but we also live under a Constitution that no law may abridge.
Those of us that have been in the military are well acquainted with the Oath to the Constitution as a condition of service. The words of the Constitution also provide powerful parameters for carrying out the daily duties of our social contract.
When Adolph Hitler became Chancellor, one of the first things he sought to do was to get the German Army to swear allegiance to him personally rather than the constitution that brought him into power. One of the many actions that is getting President Trump into trouble these days is his insistence on absolute loyalty from the public servants that really owe their allegiance to the Constitution they swore to uphold.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia recently traveled to the Crimea in southern Ukraine that he annexed under force of arms and had an occasion to answer a question from a child that asked about being a journalist. Putin was clear about his feeling that the duties of a journalist includes avoiding “upsetting those featured in their articles and television broadcasts.”
Putin’s “feeling” are more than law in Russia as he has seen to it that media outlets that do not toe his line be drastically reduced and “there have been several murders of high-profile journalists” during his watch. President Donald Trump tends to have the same affliction when it comes to the press that upsets him so much, especially when his utterances are fact-checked and found mostly false.
President Trump’s discomfort goes directly to the First Amendment of the Constitution that protects the press from those that seek to silence it. Specifically, the First Amendment speaks to freedom of Speech, Press, Religion, Assembly and Petition in the following language: “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.”
As an example, recently the United States Supreme Court ruled for the “Slants,” an Asian rock band that was denied that trademark name by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because it disparages people from Asian descent. The Court held that no matter how offensive the private speech is, it is protected by the First Amendment.
The First Amendment has been a blessing to all of the areas included in its language. This is especially true for minorities and the civil rights movements that sought redress of grievances related to a perceived injustices, discrimination and lack of equal opportunity. Marches and demonstrations have been key instruments in the journey to make the promise of America real.
The First Amendment is in the process of increasingly becoming more important to sectors of our population that may have never before thought about their civil rights and their emerging status as new minorities. The divided nature of our country is revealing political undercurrents similar to the Black, Latino and Women movements in the second half of the 20th Century.
Indeed, the current administration was elected and is ruling with elements of that political undercurrent. This should serve as a reminder that the First Amendment allows one to say what needs to be said and allows others to report it and not be silenced.