Tag Archives: First Amendment

NFL tells players to stand … or else

Freedom of speech and political expression has just been dealt an improper blow to the gut by the National Football League.

To be candid, this story makes my gut churn. The NFL, though, has made the wrong decision to restrict the manner in which its players can express themselves politically.

It began a couple of seasons ago when a player decided to kneel during the national anthem prior to the start of a game. Former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick wanted to protest the treatment of African-Americans by police.

At one level, I wish the young man had decided to stand during the anthem. His decision to “take a knee,” though, didn’t bother me greatly. I understand why he decided to do that.

But a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, decided to make a major issue out of it. Then the candidate was elected president in 2016 and he kept up the drumbeat. He called protesting NFL players “sons of bit****” who should be “fired.”

This week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said players henceforth will stand when they play the anthem. They are free to stay in the locker room, but while they are on the field, they will stand.

Trump won one, yes? I guess so.

I want to stipulate something here. The nation’s founding was based on its honoring of peaceful dissent. Its very governing document, the Constitution, guarantees citizens the right to protest.

NFL players who “take a knee” are exercising their right to protest. I have heard the argument that as employees of professional football team owners, they are obligated to behave the way their bosses dictate.

Yes, but they are performing on a public stage, subsidized by the public that pays top dollar to watch them play a game. As a social media acquaintance of mine noted recently, these men aren’t “indentured servants.” They are highly paid professional athletes, some of whom choose to make a political statement.

They do so peacefully. And to my way of thinking, their kneeling doesn’t disrespect the nation in the least. It honors the basis for the nation’s very founding.

Presidents should understand value of a free press

Presidents have come and gone over the course of our beloved Republic.

Some tenets, though, remain affixed to our national identity. One of them is a free press and the guarantee that government cannot control it.

The video attached to this blog post offers an example of how one president, John F. Kennedy, understood how a free press is vital to guard against the darkness of secrecy. President Kennedy sought to defend the press as it did its job, even when its reporting cast his administration in a negative light.

The Bay of Pigs is an example of how the president likely wanted the press to look the other way. It didn’t. Nor could the president insist out loud and in public that it do that very thing. The Bay of Pigs was a disaster from the get-go. The military operation in April 1961 sought to overthrow the Fidel Castro government in Cuba. It was poorly planned and poorly executed. As JFK said at he time, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

The press reported the failure … as it should have done.

What a change we are seeing in the present day with one of JFK’s successors, Donald J. Trump, who insists that negative coverage is the product of “fake news,” which is a denigration of the men and women who take their jobs at least as seriously as the president takes his.

Trump doesn’t get what damn near all of his predecessors have understood. The press is vital to hold public officials accountable for their actions. Without the media doing their job, the government can do irreparable harm to our cherished Republic.

Butt out, Rep. Tinderholt

I am quite certain that damn few Amarillo residents knew the name of Tony Tinderholt until he decided to stick his nose into an Amarillo City Hall dustup over whether residents can applaud during City Council meetings.

Tinderholt is a Republican state representative from Arlington. Oh, and he’s also a golden boy associated with Empower Texans, a far-right-wing political action group that decided to become involved in a couple of Texas Panhandle GOP legislative primary races this spring.

Empower Texans had its head — and other body parts — handed to it when Panhandle Republican voters essentially re-elected state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of them Amarillo Republicans.

Tinderholt has decided to pressure Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson into rethinking her decision to restrict clapping at council meetings.

I won’t get into the merits of Nelson’s decision. I’m sitting out here in the peanut gallery and am out of the loop on the details of what transpired when Nelson kicked a constituent out of a council meeting. I will say only that Nelson perhaps overreacted in the moment, but has tried to explain — in the wake of some local criticism — that she has a keen understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and its guarantees of free speech and all that kind of thing.

I am struck by the idea that a state representative from far away would want to meddle in a matter that should be settled by the folks who live here and who are elected to govern a community’s affairs.

It’s interesting, too, that Tinderholt would be affiliated with a group, Empower Texans, that sought to dictate to Panhandle residents how they should vote. The Texas Panhandle took care of its business quite nicely despite the pressure being brought to bear on this region from Empower Texans.

So, to Rep. Tinderholt and Empower Texans, I just have this modest rejoinder: Butt out!

Founders got this one precisely correct

I posted an item on High Plains Blogger that sought to explain that the U.S. Constitution need not state matters in black and white for issues to remain relevant.

My particular target dealt with a statement in a column published in the Amarillo Globe-News that the words “separation of church and state” are not in the Constitution, as if to suggest that there really is no “separation.” Well, there is.

Here is what I wrote:

‘Separation of church, state’ need not be written

I want to reiterate a point I’ve made a time or three already.

It is that the founding fathers did not create a perfect governing document, but on the issue of church/state separation, they got that part perfectly.

They didn’t liberate the slaves when they drafted the Constitution. They didn’t give women the right to vote.

However, on the issue of whether to establish a secular state, they hit it out of the park. They sought to form a government that did not dictate how people should worship. They gave us the right to worship as we please, or not worship at all.

The First Amendment contains four elements: a free press, the freedom of speech, the ability to seek redress of grievances against the government and of religion.

Of those four elements, the founders listed the religion part first.

Does that suggest to you that the founders’ stipulation in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ” was the most important civil liberty they wanted to protect?

That’s how I interpret it.

The founders’ direct ancestors fled religious persecution in Europe and they damn sure insisted that it must not happen in the United States of America.

‘Separation of church, state’ need not be written

I cannot let this one pass without offering a brief rejoinder.

Dave Henry, the director of commentary for the Amarillo Globe-News, offered this tidbit in a column Sunday about what is written in the U.S. Constitution.

His column dealt with myths and other untruths that show up on social media. He writes: The fake “City of Amarillo” Facebook page reminded AGN that, “The free press is a cornerstone of democracy.”

Is the free press a “cornerstone” of a republic? I hope so, because the word “democracy” is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, what is actually written in the U.S. Constitution – and what is not – does not matter anymore. For example, “separation of church and state.”

He quibbles correctly about whether the founders created a “democracy” or a “republic.” It was the latter, for certain.

But then …

Henry repeats a canard that needs some further explanation. He says the Constitution does not contain the words “separation of church and state.” True. But only as far as it goes.

What that remark — cited often by conservatives who keep arguing that it’s OK to teach religion in public schools — ignores is that the Constitution implies such a separation in its First Amendment. The founders didn’t need to write “separation of church and state” when they declared that Congress shall make no law that establishes a state religion. The prohibition against writing such a law translates quite nicely, in my humble view, to a church-and-state separation.

What’s more, the federal courts have upheld that standard repeatedly through countless court challenges over the course of, oh, 200 years.

I just have grown weary of the tired refrain that the Constitution needs to say something specifically in order to make an issue relevant. Church/state separation is covered by the nation’s governing document — even if it doesn’t say it in so many words.

Did the City Council overreact to applause?

Amarillo’s City Council has decided to make an issue out of something that shouldn’t really matter.

It is going to prohibit applause during City Council meetings.

Holy cow! Stop the presses!

A constituent decided to break out in applause. Mayor Ginger Nelson ordered him out of the council chambers. I understand he was arrested. The “altercation” has produced something of a mini-tempest at City Hall.

Some folks argue that the mayor has inhibited someone’s First Amendment right of free political speech. I wouldn’t go so far.

Then again, I wonder why the mayor decided to make this an issue in the first place. Does the applause distract anyone? Does it delay the conduct of city business? Are there epithets being hurled?

I get that the council has the authority to set rules of decorum and behavior. It can allow public comment, for instance, or it can disallow it. The council allows constituents to speak on issues of the day.

I remember a time when Randall County Commissioners Court — presided over by County Judge Ted Wood — would allow constituents to speak for as long as they wanted. If they want on for hours, hey, that was OK with Wood. The county belongs to them, not the commissioners, he said. Woods’s generosity with public time drew some criticism, too, just as Mayor Nelson’s relative stinginess has brought some barbs.

I don’t see this issue as any big shakes one way or the other.

If I were King of the World, I would allow constituents to applaud. Within reason, of course.

Revisiting myth of our ‘national Christianity’

Some issues just never go away. They lurk on the edges of our national consciousness, occasionally returning to a spot under the lights.

I have written a number of blogs on this venue about whether we live in a “Christian nation.” I concluded long ago that the founders deliberately left the word “Christian” out of our Constitution.

Here’s a post from 2015:

A ‘Christian nation’? Never have been one

I suspect we’re going to be talking, maybe soon, about this issue once again. After all, the president who’s alleged to have had an affair with a porn queen has been courting the evangelical community since he began running for the office. I fully expect the evangelicals to talk about religion and their “faith” in the president.

Indeed, I saw a tweet this morning that reminds us that Barack Obama and George W. Bush were faithful to their wives, but it took a serial philanderer who’s allegedly involved with a porn star to get evangelical Christians so energized.

And somewhere along the line, someone is going to blurt out some nutty notion that the United States is a “Christian nation,” that it is rediscovering its Christian roots.

I’ll say it again, just as I will say it now.

Baloney!

We aren’t a Christian nation. We are a nation founded by and large by men who adhered to Christian principles; many of them were men of faith who didn’t necessarily follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. Yes, there is a Judeo-Christian ethic written into the Constitution.

However, the founders explicitly excluded any reference to Christianity in the nation’s founding document. Why? Because those men fled religious persecution from tyrants who demanded that they must believe a certain way. They came across the ocean intent on preserving people’s right to worship as they please — or not worship if that is their choice.

I am acutely aware that the founders didn’t craft a perfect document. It didn’t grant full citizenship rights to every living human being in this newly created country. But on the issue of the nation’s religiosity, they got it right.

God bless those brave and wise men.

Prior restraint? No can do, Mr. President

Now we have this: Reports have surfaced that Donald Trump’s legal team is researching ways to prevent “60 Minutes” from broadcasting an interview with the porn queen with whom the president allegedly had an affair in 2006.

Let’s see. What do we make of that?

I believe it tells me that there’s something to all this baloney about a six-figure sum of money being paid to keep the porn queen quiet.

The president denies that he had an affair with this woman, who’s making quite a bit of hay of late over the publicity that has swarmed all over her — and the president. The affair allegedly occurred about a year after Trump married his third wife, Melania, and right after his wife gave birth to the couple’s son.

The porn queen/adult film producer and director has filed a lawsuit claiming that the non-disclosure agreement is null and void because Trump never signed it. He didn’t even sign it using an alias he was using at the time … sheesh!

Thus, she contends, she is able to talk all she wants about whether she had an affair with the man who would become president of the United States, despite being paid $130,000 in hush money by Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

One more thing.

The First Amendment protects a “free press.” In the 21st century, that also includes broadcast media. The U.S. Constitution prevents government from interfering in the media’s effort to do its job.

I shall add that Trump is always the president. He is the head of government. He cannot compartmentalize these issues.

Prior restraint of the media, Mr. President, is not an option.

‘The Post’ reminds one of how it used to be

I saw “The Post.” This won’t be a review of the film, except that I simply want to say it was gripping to the maximum degree.

It reminds me of how it used to be in daily print journalism.

I had some trepidation about seeing it. Some of my fellow travelers in the journalism craft had expressed dismay at seeing the film and lamenting what has become of a proud profession. I had a glint of fear that I might share their gloom. I mean, look at what has happened to newspapers all across the nation. They’re shrinking and withering before our eyes as publishers grapple against forces that are overwhelming them: the Internet, the plethora of “news” sources, cable television.

That fear never hit me. Instead, I reveled in the story it told and rejoiced in the victory that The Washington Post scored in the effort to censor it, preventing the government from invoking a prior restraint on a free and unfettered press.

“The Post” tells the story of the paper’s effort to publish the Pentagon Papers, a report written during the Vietnam War. The Papers told of the deception perpetrated on the public by several presidential administrations: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Officials all told of supposed “progress” in the fight against the communists in Vietnam. They lied to the nation. The Pentagon Papers revealed the lie.

The New York Times obtained the papers from Daniel Ellsberg. It got the story out first, then the Nixon administration persuaded a judge to prohibit further publication of the Papers, citing national security concerns.

Post editor Ben Bradlee didn’t see it that way. He eventually guaranteed publisher Katherine Graham that no American fighting man would be harmed if the Post published the rest of the damning document.

The matter ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which then ruled 6-3 against the Nixon administration — and in favor of the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.

The film tells that story in gripping fashion.

In a larger sense, though, the film reminds us of the value of press freedom and the good that the freedom brings to a public that needs to know the truth about the government that works for us.

It also reminds us of journalism’s value to a nation that promotes liberty. Indeed, given the current climate and the fomenting of hatred against the press that’s coming from the current presidential administration, “The Post” comes across as profoundly topical and relevant.

I cheered during the film when Graham gave the go-ahead to publish the Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post. The sight of presses turning over brought a lump to my throat.

I worked proudly in that craft for nearly 37 years. I never had the opportunity to cover a story of the magnitude of the Pentagon Papers. I did, though, have my share of thrills about getting a story into print and feeling the impact of that story on the community our newspaper served. I would derive the same satisfaction as I gravitated to opinion journalism and wrote editorials or signed columns that challenged the sources of power in our community.

“The Post,” therefore, didn’t sadden me.

It made me proud to have taken the career path I chose.

Weaken libel laws? No can do, Mr. President

Donald John Trump wants to make it easier to sue publications for libel. The president vowed to change laws he called a “sham” and a “disgrace.”

Really, Mr. President?

He made the vow at the start of a Cabinet meeting in the White House.

Where can I start? I’ll give it a shot.

Trump said journalists cannot write stories that are knowingly false and then smile while they count their money as it pours into their bank account.

True enough, Mr. President. Except that current libel laws ensure that those who publish “knowingly false” stories are punished.

As for whether the federal government can rewrite the law, I need to remind Donald Trump that the U.S. Constitution declares in the First Amendment that there should be a “free press” that is allowed to do its job without government interference.

The founders wanted to ensure that a free press could function without fear of intimidation and, thus, established a high bar for public officials to clear if they decide to sue for libel.

The object of Trump’s tirade clearly is the publication of “Fire and Fury,” the highly controversial book written by journalist Michael Wolff, who reports some mighty scathing remarks from former and current White House staffers who had some disparaging things to say about Donald Trump. The president calls it all fiction; Wolff, of course, stands by his reporting in the book.

National Public Radio reports: And this is hardly the first time Trump has railed against libel laws, which as a matter of practice are made by the states and backed by a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that sets a high bar for public figures wanting to prove libel.

So, what is left for Trump to do? He can nominate Supreme Court justices who are willing to water down the First Amendment. However, he then sets up a proverbial “litmus test” for potential appointees.

Would he dare ask them prior to selecting them whether they would pledge a sort of loyalty to the president by agreeing beforehand to rule favorably on a libel case that comes before the nation’s highest court?

Now that I think about it, I believe he would … to his shame!

Trump’s war on the media keeps getting hotter.

Frightening … and dangerous.