Tag Archives: First Amendment

Is it gut-check time for the NFL?

The National Football League needs to re-evaluate a few priorities.

A young man is trying to find a spot with one of the NFL’s professional football teams. He’s a pretty good quarterback. He once led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013.

Then he did something foolish, perhaps even stupid. He decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of football games. Colin Kaepernick was protesting the plight of African-Americans. He decided to make a political statement by declining to stand for the Anthem.

He’s been vilified ever since.

Why the NFL re-evaluation? Well consider a thing or two. The league has allowed actual convicted felons to play football. They’ve been convicted of spousal abuse, sexual abuse, illegal dog fighting, drug peddling. Why, one of the game’s all-time greats — retired linebacker Ray Lewis — once pleaded no contest to a charge in connection with the murder of an individual. He retired recently and has been feted as one of the game’s giants. Huh? Yep.

Kaepernick has been convicted of nothing. He has committed no crime. He merely chose to make a political statement. Yes, I wish he hadn’t done it that way. But that is his prerogative. It’s in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees him the right to do what he did.

Kaepernick was waived by the 49ers. He wants to keep playing football. General managers, team owners and head coaches are afraid of fan reaction, I suppose.

Check out John Feinstein’s excellent column on Kaepernick right here.

Do you remember when a young boxer declined induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religious objection to the Vietnam War? The late Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 and then denied the opportunity to fight for a living. He was deprived of more than three prime years of his career. Then in 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ali had been denied his constitutional right of religious freedom.

Ali returned to the boxing ring and, well, the rest is history.

Colin Kaepernick is facing much of the same recrimination. It is unjust. It’s gut-check time in the NFL.

Long live the secular state!

Jon Mark Beilue has done it again. He has written a spot-on column for the Amarillo Globe-News that I want to share here.

I won’t restate my friend’s thoughts, other than to echo his notion that the founding fathers created a marvelous governing document that has withstood many challenges over time.

They knew that the nation’s European immigrants came here to flee religious persecution, so they wrote into the Constitution’s First Amendment that there should be no law that established a state religion; indeed, of all the liberties protected in the First Amendment, they mentioned religion first.

Here, though, is an additional point I want to make above Beilue’s excellent essay.

It is that the United States to this very day remains a significantly more religious country than virtually all the nations of Europe. Americans are more inclined to attend worship services than Europeans. I am aware that church attendance is declining in the United States, but it remains far greater than it is throughout Europe, where worship attendance has plummeted for decades.

Why is that important? Because many nations of Europe have state religions. The United States has none. The Church of England? A state religion. Catholicism is ingrained in the governing documents of several European nations.

I make this U.S.-Europe connection only because those original immigrants came across The Pond from Europe.

The Constitution stipulates that there must be “no religious test” applied to candidates for public office at any level. The word “Christian” does not appear in the Constitution.

Were the founders fueled by their personal religious faith when they wrote the Constitution? Certainly. I don’t doubt that for a moment. However, they knew better than to write their faith into the nation’s government document.

As Jon Mark Beilue writes: “Our Founding Fathers, they knew what they were doing.”

Why give Alex Jones a platform?

People such as Alex Jones give me heartburn.

I happen to be a First Amendment purist. I believe in the amendment’s guarantee of free speech and I do not want it watered down.

Then along comes people like Jones, the radio talk show blowhard who’s been thrust into the news yet again. Broadcast journalist Megyn Kelly has booked him on her NBC News show and snippets of her interview with Jones have enraged some survivors of one of the nation’s worst tragedies.

Jones has spoken infamously about how the 9/11 attacks against the United States were an “inside job” and then — and this goes way beyond anything resembling human decency — he has alleged that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut was staged; he says the children who were slain were “actors.”

Kelly is giving this guy’s moronic views a platform.

Should he be allowed to spout that trash? Should he be given air time on a major broadcast network? That pesky First Amendment says “yes.” Tenets of good judgment and basic humanity suggest that this guy shouldn’t be given a platform to spout the filth that pours out of his pie hole.

Kelly deserves the criticism she is getting from at least one of the Sandy Hook parents who lost a child in that hideous act of cruelty.

And that damn heartburn continues to churn in my gut.

Trump increases pols’ antipathy toward media

What is it about politicians who make lame jokes and then fail to own them?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is just the latest in a long and growing line of pols who have committed that transgression.

But here’s the deal: Abbott’s lame joke is speaking to a larger — more serious — issue involving the media and the politicians they cover.

The governor this past week signed into law a bill that reduces the amount of money that concealed handgun carry applicants must pay to obtain their license. Then he went to a shooting range, fired a few rounds at a target and then joked that he would carry the target around “in case I see any reporters.”

Few folks are laughing.

You see, it’s the context of Gov. Abbott’s remarks that are so damn troubling.

We can thank the president of the United States for it.

Donald Trump has all but declared war on the media. He calls them the “enemy of the people.” He accuses mainstream news outlets of producing “fake news.” He refuses to answer tough questions from the media. He calls news media outlets “a disgrace” and calls reporters “among the most dishonest people” anywhere. He reportedly told the then-FBI director that reporters should be jailed if they report on leaked classified material.

Trumpkins show up at his rallies wearing t-shirts that suggest journalists should be hanged.

Now the governor of Texas makes a goofy joke that seems to suggest it’s OK to shoot reporters. He won’t take it back. He won’t apologize for the hideous timing of the remark, coming as it did just two days after a Republican congressional candidate “body slammed” a reporter for asking him about the GOP health care overhaul.

Is this the era into which we have entered? That it’s OK to intimidate reporters for doing their job? That the First Amendment protection of a “free press” isn’t to be taken seriously, let alone literally?

Mimi Swartz, writing for Texas Monthly, has asked the governor to take it back. You can read her essay here. I don’t expect Abbott to do as she asks.

Sadly, neither do I expect the president of the United States to back off his own campaign against the media assigned to report his actions to the people he governs.


Preferring the U.S. method of letting ’em protest

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cannot possibly be a dim bulb.

Or can he?

Ross offered a critique of the welcome that Donald J. Trump’s presidential entourage received in Saudi Arabia.

“There’s no question that they’re liberalizing their society, and I think the other thing that was fascinating to me, there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there,” Ross said in an appearance on CNBC. “Not one guy with a bad placard.”

Not one guy, eh?

Someone ought to inform the secretary that public protest in Saudi Arabia remains highly illegal. Protesters generally are rounded up, arrested, given lashes until they bleed … you know, the kind of thing that occurs in countries run by repressive regimes.


CNBC reporter Becky Quick sought to inform Ross of those prohibitions. He answered:

“In theory, that could be true,” he replied. “But boy, there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at any incursion, there wasn’t anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood, and at the end of the trip, as I was getting back on the plane, the security guards from the Saudi side who’d been helping us over the weekend all wanted to pose for a big photo op, and then they gave me two gigantic bushels of dates as a present, a thank you for the trip that we had had. That was a pretty from-the-heart, very genuine gesture and it really touched me.”

I believe I will stick with the American way. It allows protests. It gives people the freedom to speak angrily against the government, although the only stipulation I can find in the First Amendment is that it guarantees the right of citizens to protest “peaceably.”

Violence? Nope. Can’t do that, not even in America.

It still sure beats the dickens out of the prohibitions against such behavior in Saudi Arabia.

Oh, and let’s toss reporters into prison, too, shall we?

Amid all the political shrapnel that’s flying around after the latest explosion from inside the White House, we have this little item that went virtually unnoticed.

The president of the United States sat down earlier this year with the FBI director and opened a conversation with a statement about whether the FBI should “imprison reporters” who report on leaked classified information.

Yep, that would be Donald J. Trump telling that to James Comey. I reckon Comey didn’t precisely buy into that line of crap from the president, but I’m just guessing at this point.

What in the world is Donald J. Trump trying to do here?

To my way of thinking, his complete ignorance of the America’s foundational basis is being put on full display.

Mr. President, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment does not allow the government to do the very thing you suggested should be done. You do not understand that. I am now absolutely certain that at 70 years of age, you never will.

We’ve been caught up in the Big Story of the Week, which is that the president possibly committed a criminal act by asking Comey to shut down an ongoing FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian government operatives. This is getting serious, folks.

However, we narrowed our focus a bit too hastily. The bigger picture suggests a president infected with paranoia over how the media do their job. It is to report the news. If the news is about those who leak information to the public, then the media have an obligation to perform their duty.

Threats of imprisoning reporters cannot be tolerated.

Just as a refresher, here is what the First Amendment says in its entirety; I will italicize and bold-face a specific point for emphasis:

“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.”

Are we clear?

No surprise that POTUS skips correspondents dinner

The White House Correspondents Association is having its annual dinner tonight.

One of the normal attendees is missing. That would be the president of the United States. Are you surprised? Me neither.

Donald J. Trump has declared the media to be the “enemy of the people.” He has accused the media of peddling “fake news.” He said just today that the media have “purposely” reported “negatively” his first 100 days in office.

Did anyone really expect the president to stand before a large banquet room full of media representatives, wisecrack his way through a routine, slap a few backs as if he really harbors no ill feelings toward the media? Of course not!

What the president has done, of course, is attack an institution that was guaranteed protection from government bullying and coercion. That guarantee is written explicitly in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That has not mattered to the president, who has banned certain media outlets access to his administration and scolded certain media members harshly in public for allegedly reporting falsehoods.

How ironic it is. You’ll recall that in 2011 Trump — then just a mere real estate mogul and reality TV celebrity — sat among the media at a White House correspondents dinner. That was the event in which President Barack Obama poked fun at Trump, needling him for promoting the “fake news” about the president’s place of birth and assorted other mistruths. He did all that, by the way, on the same day he ordered the CIA-Navy SEAL operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hey, maybe Donald Trump believes Barack Obama’s act is too difficult to follow, given the former president’s impeccable comic timing. Nah, probably not.

Maybe the president will bury the hatchet with the media and recognize publicly that the media have a job to do, which is to hold public officials — including the president of the United States — accountable for their actions and decisions.

45th POTUS keeps trying to rewrite the rules

Listen up, Donald John “Smart Person” Trump.

You cannot tell major media organizations which news to cover and which to ignore. The U.S. Constitution — the document with which you are patently unfamiliar — simply doesn’t allow presidents of the United States to coerce a “free press.”

It’s in the First Amendment. The founders had crafted the Constitution with those articles, then they started to amend the government framework. So they started with 10 civil liberties they wanted to protect.

That First Amendment? It protects freedom to worship, freedom to assemble peaceably to protest the government and — yep! — the freedom of the press to report the news.

NBC News believes the Russian hacking story is important enough to cover fully and completely.

It doesn’t please you, Mr. President? That’s tough dookey, sir. It doesn’t matter whether you’re unhappy with the way the television network does its job.

And quit the tweeting, too

You keep blazing away on your Twitter feed with that juvenile nonsense. You act more like a teenager than the leader of the free world. And do you actually believe that NBC News or any media outlet is going to do what you want just because you’re the president and you can say whatever the hell you feel like saying?

That’s not how it works in this country.

Just so you know, I just watched a great PBS special on KLRU-TV, based out of Austin, Texas. It told us plenty about the presidency, the White House and the families who have occupied “the people’s house.”

One of your predecessors, President Lyndon Johnson, was ravaged by protesters during the Vietnam War. What do you suppose the president said at the time. He said he wanted to ensure that presidents always work to preserve the right to dissent, to disagree with decisions made in the Oval Office. “I know all about dissent,” LBJ said.

You are occupying the Oval Office now, Mr. President. The dissent? The disagreement? The occasional anger? Get used to it.

Oh, and quit trying to bully the media.

The Constitution protects them from people like you. Honest. It’s in there. In the First Amendment. You ought to read it.

Establishment Clause derails latest refugee ‘ban’

The nation’s founders were wise men. They didn’t craft a perfect governing document, but they got it mostly right.

They established the seven Articles within the U.S. Constitution, then set about to fine-tune it, tinkering with amendments, the first 10 of which guaranteed certain civil liberties to the citizens of the day.

The First Amendment is under discussion today as the nation ponders this idiotic idea by the current president to ban refugees from six Muslim countries.

Two federal judges have suspended the new rule on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause set forth in the very first amendment.

Interesting, yes? I think so. Here’s why.

The First Amendment protects three civil liberties: religion, the press and the right to assemble peaceably. It’s fascinating in the extreme to me that the founders constructed the First Amendment to prohibit the enactment of laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ” Of the three liberties outlined, the founders listed religion first.

Donald J. Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0 does essentially the same thing  — with a few modifications — as the first executive order that a federal judge struck down. It targets Muslims, discriminating against them as they seek to enter the United States.

Sure, the president insists he seeks only to protect Americans against terrorists.

Three federal judges, though, have said violating the Establishment Cause is illegal. Judges in Washington state, Hawaii and Maryland have concurred that such an order is discriminatory on its face.

No can do, Mr. President.

Therein perhaps lies the beauty of our form of government, the one crafted by the founders who knew the value of restricting the power of the executive branch. They did it by parceling out power equally to the legislative and, yes, the judicial branches of government. They allowed for lifetime appointments of federal judges ostensibly to liberate them from political pressure and to enable them to interpret the Constitution freely.

The judicial branch has exerted its rightful authority yet again. It did not commit, as the president said, an “unprecedented overreach” of judicial power.

It has recognized the importance of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, understanding that the founders thought enough of that clause and the contents of that amendment to enact it first.

‘W’: Free press is ‘indispensable to democracy’

Maybe you remember the bumper stickers with President George W. Bush’s face on them, with the caption: Do you miss him?

The message was meant as a dig at President Barack H. Obama.

Well, I didn’t miss him then. I do miss him now that a new president is in charge … and who’s decided to wage open war against the media.

President Bush said on “Today” that a free and strong media are “indispensable to democracy.”

Trump doesn’t grasp the notion that the media play a critical role in assuring that public officials — even the president of the United States — always stay on the straight and narrow.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. … Power can be very addictive,” he told NBC’s “Today.” Do you think?

George W. Bush is among a handful of men who have held those reins of power. He did so for two terms. While his record is a mixed one, he always seemed to comprehend the limits inherent in the power of the presidency.

Two presidents later, we have a guy in the White House who is trying to manipulate the media in ways most of never have seen. He seeks to shut out major media organizations from press briefings; he seeks to curry favor with “friendly reporters”; he blasts reporters and organizations openly for being “dishonest” and purveyors of what he calls “fake news.”

The First Amendment guarantees a “free press.” It prohibits the government from interfering in the media’s effort to do their duty.

Trump doesn’t get it. President Bush does get it. “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account,” “W” said.

Do I miss the 43rd president?

Yes. I do.