Noonan: America should pray for the First Amendment

Peggy Noonan is worried about the future of the First Amendment. She writes in The Wall Street Journal the First Amendment is in perilous condition, especially after some on the Left went ape over politicians saying they were praying for the San Bernardino victims.

Journalists, bloggers, contrarians and citizens jumped into the fray. Then the U.S. senator, Chris Murphy, came forward rather menacingly. “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing—again.”

Wow. You might think he was aiming this at President Obama, who when he was a popular president with an overwhelmingly Democratic House and Senate did not prioritize gun control. But it was clearly aimed at all those Republicans and religious people who were praying, saying they were praying, and implicitly asking you to pray, rather than doing what they should do, which is supporting the senator’s cause.

Noonan suggests a lot of people on the Left don’t know what prayer actually is, but I’m not sure that’s the case. There are plenty of Leftists who are religious, pray, and just believe the government is the solution to everything. There also plenty of Leftists who are anti-theist, and want to shut up anyone who dares mention, “God,” unless it’s used in a slur. There are plenty of people on the Right who are atheist or agnostic, but don’t care at all if someone invokes the name of God in a prayer. I spent my Thanksgiving with an atheist who didn’t care when everyone in her family bowed to pray. It’s a respect thing and being willing not to shove faith (or un-faith) down the throats of others. It’s something which is sorely lacking at times on both sides of the religious spectrum.

But one thing Noonan is spot on is that the First Amendment is under attack. AP noted yesterday how vague Attorney General Loretta Lynch was on her “we will take action” if anti-Muslim rhetoric “edges towards violence.” Jessica Valenti at The Guardian demanded a stop to “violent radical language” about abortion and blamed some pro-lifers for daring to protest against what they think it’s wrong. The people who created the CNN documentary “The Hunting Ground” told The Harvard Crimson the professors who disagreed with the film “contributes to a hostile climate at Harvard Law.” People went after Memories Pizza and Sweet Cakes. Conservatives and libertarians are hunted down and declared “unworthy” of being in certain entertainment industries. The Obama Administration, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders are against the Citizens United decision. Critics of feminism are uninvited to speak at colleges, and trigger warnings are becoming normal at some universities. A cheerleader was banned from cheering due to a political remark. These examples are all evidence about the war against the First Amendment. It’s complete madness and a rejection of one of the key reasons why the 13 colonies rebelled against British rule.

Yet it’s something the U.S. seems to forget time and time again. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which tamped down on anti-Federalist political speech. Federal, state, and local governments have banned books for a variety of reasons. The Supreme Court ruled in 1915 the First Amendment didn’t cover films (this was later overturned). Communists were prosecuted in the U.S for being communists, not whether they were actually trying to overthrow the government. Federal agencies refuse to release information and the White House got rid of its regulations on Freedom of Information Acts. These are violations of the First Amendment and free speech, and something which the both the people and government forget on a regular basis. It’s a truly horrific situation.

Noonan raises a few questions on what Republicans can do if they really are willing to fight for free speech.

Why doesn’t some thoughtful candidate on the Republican side address the issue of shaming and silencing? Why doesn’t someone give a deep and complete speech on what the First Amendment means, how it must be protected, how we pay a daily price for it in terms of anger, hurt, misunderstandings and crudity, but it’s worth it. Why doesn’t someone note that you fight bad speech with better speech, you don’t try to tape up the mouths of an entire country.

This means conservatives and Republicans need to stand for free speech, whether they agree with it or not. This doesn’t mean people have to like what everyone else is saying or have to invite political opponents into their homes. But people have the right to speak their opinion whether it’s popular or not. Noonan is right, “you don’t try to tape up the mouths of an entire country.” National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson is also right.

The First Amendment is a guarantor of our basic civil liberties, assuming that Anthony Kennedy feels it to be so on any given Monday.

The failsafe is the next amendment.

It’d be nice if more people were willing to admit this.Those who don’t are putting the entire nation at risk of falling into tyranny. The right to speak one’s mind is an important foundation of being free men and women. For us to forget that, just shows how far we’ve fallen in the eyes of the Founders.

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David Strom 3:21 PM on March 24, 2023