Tag Archives: First Amendment

First Amendment violation? Nope!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….

First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

Of course, the First Amendment says a lot more, but this is the first clause in the first attempt to improve the nation’s governing document.

I want to bring this up because of something I posted earlier about whether we can tax religious organizations if they seek to coerce or bully politicians into enacting certain public policy.

I believe religious organizations that endorse candidates for public office or — in the case of the San Francisco Catholic archdiocese — deny communion to officials over their abortion stance make them fair game for taxation.

Public policy = taxation | High Plains Blogger

I’ve seen some chatter out there that such a taxing policy would violate the “separation between church and state” spelled out in the First Amendment. I shall disagree with all due respect.

The religious exemption is quite specific, as I read the Constitution. It declares only that Congress must avoid enacting laws that establish a religion. The clause makes no mention of tax policy. It says only that the government cannot force people to believe a certain or faith or prohibit them from the freedom to worship — or not worship — as they please.

It appears to my reading that the Constitution grants considerable leeway to tax religious organizations if their leaders venture into the political realm.

The late Rev. Jerry Falwell entered the arena in the 1980s and 1990s with his constant attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton; so did the Rev. Franklin Graham with his endorsement of political candidates; Catholic clergy have sought to deny politicians communion over abortion policy for decades; churches with predominant African American congregations have been staging political rallies for many years.

All of them are exempted from paying taxes.

To ascribe some sort of constitutional prohibition from taxing these entities is to expand what the First Amendment declares beyond anything I recognize.


First Amendment revisited

Let’s take a quick second look at the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in light of a decision the Supreme Court is likely to deliver about a former high school football coach who lost his job because he wanted to pray on the field after games.

Joe Kennedy, a former coach at Bremerton (Wash.) High School, has seen this case make all the way to the top of the judicial food chain.  His prayers drew criticism from those who said it violated the Constitution’s ban on state-sanctioned religion.

OK, back to the amendment. It sets four liberties for protection; it calls for a free press, freedom to assemble peaceably, to petition the government for gripes … and it has a religion clause.

It says, specifically, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ”

The framers set the religion matter first among those liberties. Why? Because their direct forebears had fled Europe’s religious mandate. They created a secular state in the New World. The other provisions came secondary to the religious one.

It does trouble me, therefore, that someone would complain about a coach praying on the field, which is his right as a U.S. citizen. The athletes who joined him in prayer? They weren’t forced to do it. The coach didn’t threaten them with losing their playing time if they decided against praying.

Common sense would seem to dictate that the young athletes were free to do what they felt like doing. Common sense also tells me the framers had it right when they lined out the prohibition against establishing a state religion as the first civil liberty to be protected.


Let the coach pray

This is one of those issues that makes my public-policy heartburn flare up, so here goes a shot at trying to make sense of something.

Joseph Kennedy was a football coach at Bremerton (Wash.) High School. He once knelt in prayer at the 50-yard line, thanking the Almighty for keeping the players safe. A few players then joined him, voluntarily. The players and the coach would pray after games.

Then word got out that he was doing it. News spread around the school district. I guess someone took issue with it, contending it violated the First Amendment prohibition against Congress establishing a state religion.

Now the case is going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What a crock!

I do not understand why this case even is being discussed. The coach lost his job over his praying on the field. He moved to Florida.

“It seems so simple to me: It’s a guy taking a knee by himself on the 50-yard-line, which to me doesn’t seem like it needs a rocket scientist or a Supreme Court justice to figure out,” he told CBS News. “I didn’t want to cause any waves, and the thing I wanted to do was coach football and thank God after the game.”

Then we have this response: “When a coach uses the power of his job to be in a place and have access to students at a time when they’re expected to encircle him and come to him, that’s an abuse of that power and a violation of the Constitution,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told CBS News’ Jan Crawford. “Religious freedom is not the right to impose your religion on others. We all need to have it, so that’s why the free exercise and establishment clause work together to protect religious freedom for all of us.”

Imposing religion? Wow!

After losing his job for praying on the field, ex-high school football coach Joe Kennedy brings case to Supreme Court – CBS News

As I understand it, the coach didn’t demand players pray with him; it was strictly voluntary. Nor do I believe he preached New Testament Gospel lessons. Which makes me wonder if Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim students could pray to “God” in the same fashion as their Christian teammates.

There is no “sanctioning” of a religion occurring in these prayers. Is there?

Well, the SCOTUS is going to hear the case. My hunch is that the court’s 6-3 super-conservative-majority is going to find that Coach Kennedy violated no constitutional prohibition.

I am OK with that. Let the coach pray.


Yes, tax churches too

Annette Ferrell is a Dallas resident who, in a letter to the Dallas Morning News, posed a question that I believe I am prepared to answer.

She wrote this in today’s newspaper: Am I the only one shocked that churches recommend political candidates? Are pastors announcing or suggesting which candidate to support to their flock? Am I mistaken that our nation was built on religious freedom from domination of any religion? Is it time to tax the churches?

Let’s see. OK, my answer is that, yes, it is time to tax churches the way we tax other institutions.

The Constitution declares only that Congress shall make no law that establishes a state religion. Beyond that, the nation’s government document is virtually silent on the issue of religion, although it does declare in Article VI that there should be “no religious test” demanded of political candidates. I suppose, though, that taxing authorities have deemed houses of worship to be untouchable, that they shouldn’t be taxed because they — ostensibly, at least — are not involved in the political process.

Well, many of them damn sure are involved.

Here’s an example I want to share briefly about something I witnessed during my first year in Texas. I attended a political rally in the spring of 1984 — in a church in Beaumont. It featured a stemwinder of a speech from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Baptist preacher who that year was running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Jackson had the place rockin’ with his rhetoric. It was, from a political standpoint, one of the most electrifying events I’ve ever witnessed.

The setting, though, did give me pause. That it occurred in a church troubled me at the time.

If we fast-forward to the present day, we see churches becoming involved in the election of Republican candidates for high office. Preachers have developed clever ways of dancing around their political activity. Their involvement is unmistakable.

If politicians must make their pitches in houses of worship, then the government has every right to assess tax liabilities on those places.


Demagogues sicken me

Our nation’s founders were wise men in that they felt it necessary to protect all forms of political speech, no matter how repulsive it might be to many of our ears.

But … damn! At times I wish we could outlaw demagoguery. I know we cannot. We dare not tinker with the First Amendment’s free speech clause, which I happen to value beyond all measure.

When I hear things, though, from those who claim to be speaking the “truth,” I cringe. Then I grit my teeth. I also might mutter a bad word or three.

I had an exchange recently with a critic of this blog. He continues to perpetuate the notion that political progressives endorse the notion of rioters committing acts of vandalism, not to mention inflicting bodily harm on police officers or those with whom they have disagreements.

I have sought to dispel that notion. Yes, I have heard some congressional progressive, speaking in the wake of police shootings of African Americans and the like, urge protesters to “take to the streets.” Is that an endorsement of violence, of vandalism, of committing felony crimes against human beings? No. It isn’t!

And yes, there are those on the left who resort to demagoguery at times. The current crop of demagogues features those on the right. They say that President Biden favors “open borders”; they contend that the president wants to “take your guns away”; they accuse liberals of “favoring” abortion in all cases.

This is the crap that sends me into orbit.

Do we ban those who promote such idiocy? No, we cannot do that. That Constitution of ours, drafted by those smart guys in the late 18th century, tells us we all have the right to utter nonsensical rhetoric. I accept that.

I just cannot accept what some Americans say while under constitutional protection.


Christian nationalism perverts Christianity

I had not heard of the term “Christian nationalism” until I opened my copy of the Dallas Morning News this morning and read a lengthy but remarkably informative essay by Ryan Sanders.

Sanders, a member of the DMN editorial board, says essentially that Christian nationalism is bad for the country. Why? Because in his view the notion takes Christianity and its religious tenets to dangerous new levels.

The essay alludes briefly to the founders’ intent when they formed this government of ours. They wrote the constitutional articles, noting in the preamble that “We the People of the United States” sought to form a “more perfect Union.” It doesn’t mention God, unlike the Declaration of Independence, which refers to our “Creator,” which of course is a reference to a universal God.

The First Amendment to the Constitution lists freedom from several government mandates, the first of those was freedom from government-sanctioned religion; it instructs that “Congress shall make no law” that establishes a state religion.

I am fine with that. Christian nationalists, though, are not fine with it. They believe wrongly that the founders created a religious document when in fact they created a document that was as far from a religious governmental framework that one can get.

I encourage you to take a look at Sanders’s essay.


Sanders writes, for example: Christian nationalism isn’t attracting followers because it’s far-fetched. On the contrary, like all the most dangerous errors, it is attractive because it seems good. It is darkness masquerading as light, like the Apostle Paul warned. In modern parlance, we might say it is truth-adjacent.

The rioters who stormed the Capitol Building on 1/6 exemplified the horror of Christian nationalism. They sought to persuade the rest of us that they were to do God’s work by disrupting the 2020 presidential election certification. My goodness! They were acting at the urging of a defeated president and transferring his message into some twisted form of religious doctrine.

I must rank Christian nationalism among the list of existential threats to the very principles on which this nation came into being.


Let ’em talk, however …

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

I have no qualms — not a single one — about the First Amendment and the guarantee of free speech it enshrines.

But, dang! Why don’t the right-wing lunatics out there cease delivering the “fake news” and the “disinformation” about current issues of the day, not to mention about our efforts to end a killer virus that keeps sickening Americans.

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene — a Georgia Republican QAnon queen — went on a podcast and said the Declaration of Independence instructs us to “overthrow tyrants.” Which she said was the intent of the 1/6 insurrection.

She is entitled to spew that trash. I just wish we could police such nonsense and send it immediately to the trash heap, where it belongs.

I never would consider watering down the First Amendment or any of our Bill of Rights provisions (yes, that includes the Second Amendment, which allows us to “keep and bear arms”).

I just want society to dismiss the crap that flies out of the mouths of loons such as Rep. Taylor-Greene.

I am game. Are you?


First Amendment vs. Facebook

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Let’s take a look at the First Amendment, which has been revived as a talking point with regard to Facebook’s decision to keep Donald J. Trump off the platform for the time being.

Trumpkins keep yammering that Facebook is impinging on Trump’s First Amendment rights of free speech as a U.S. citizen.

Hold on.

The founders inscribed a fairly narrow guarantee when they wrote the First Amendment to our Constitution. They wrote:

“Congress shall make no law respecting the 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.” 

The most important and salient words of that Amendment are the first five of them. “Congress shall make no law … ”

That means Congress is prohibited from interfering in all those freedoms guaranteed by the founders. It says nothing at all about what a private company can do to limit Americans’ expressions. Facebook is a for-profit organization. It has every right to ban whoever it wants from its platform. It chose to act after Donald Trump kept fomenting the Big Lie about the 2020 election, that it was stolen from him. He used Facebook to promote the Big Lie; Facebook gurus decided they would have no more of it.

Does this inhibit Trump’s First Amendment liberty? Not one bit. He can still make whatever statement he chooses, meaning he is free to lie his a** off!

I had many discussions over the years while working in daily journalism with those who challenged my authority as a newspaper editor to disallow them from expressing themselves on our pages. I would reject a submission if it dealt in falsehood. I would tell the author of that decision. The author would respond: “But the First Amendment allows me to say it.”

No, it doesn’t. It does give us all the opportunity to run their own publication and to allow whatever they want to appear on its pages.

So, the fight over the First Amendment continues as Donald Trump and his minions try to make an argument that is as hollow as the lies Trump keeps telling.

The nation’s founders got it right when they said “Congress shall make no law … “

No First Amendment problem

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A word to the right-wing wackos who are going bonkers over Facebook’s decision to keep Donald Trump off the social medium … for now: settle down and take a deep breath!

The Trump cultists in Congress are bitching about so-called First Amendment infringements because Facebook, a privately held media company, has decided it cannot allow someone to use its platform to call for an insurrection against the U.S. government.

That is what Trump did on Jan. 6. So it banned the former president. It decided to make a firm decision later on the extent of Trump’s banishment.

As for Trump’s First Amendment free speech guarantee, it is still there. Trump can yap, yammer and yeowl all he wants about the 2020 election being “stolen.” Of course that is just so much bullsh**. Trump knows it. I certainly do. So do you as well.

The First Amendment allows Trump to spew such nonsense. It doesn’t prohibit a private firm from exercising its own policy-making ability on who gets to speak out and who faces the muzzle.

So, right-wing blowards? You need to pipe down.

Ol’ Ben was a wise man

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Benjamin Franklin well might be my favorite Founding Father.

He was an inventor, a diplomat, a writer, a statesman, a scientist and a man of impeccable vision. He was 70 years old and in poor health when he put his name on the Declaration of Independence.

But he knew the value of free speech and vigorous political discourse. A quote from ol’ Ben appeared this week in the Princeton (Texas) Herald that I want to share:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected in its ruins. Republics … derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

Franklin’s wisdom is worth sharing today because of the battering that free speech and expression has taken in recent years. We’ve just been through a horrendous political era in which the nation elected a man with no understanding of government and of the precepts that drive it. Donald Trump encouraged his followers to “beat the  hell” out of protesters at his rallies. He called the press the “enemy of the people.” He abhors criticism directed at him in any form and along the way developed a following of like-minded individuals who adhere to his strange and dangerous notion of a democratic society.

Benjamin Franklin had it exactly right when he wrote the words I have copied.

Franklin knew about the inherent strength that democracies get from “a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.” My goodness, the very First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to “peaceably … assemble, and to petition government for a redress of grievances.”

We have heard plenty of talk about the “peaceable” part of protesting. It gets out of hand at times. Violence is not the answer and those of us who value what Benjamin Franklin believed abhor the violence that occasionally erupts when citizens get angry.

I am going to set the insurrection of Jan. 6 aside from this discussion. It was a singularly heinous act by a mob of terrorists who had no intention of seeking a peaceful solution to their grievances.

As we move forward from that horrifying event, let us not lose sight of the principle on which the founders — such as the great Benjamin Franklin — created this government. It is that we are allowed to protest what our government does in the performance of its duties.

The end result of Franklin’s wisdom is the realization that we are the bosses of those we select to represent us.