Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Congress Shall Make No Law..."

"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." First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted December 15, 1791.

These words limit the power of government, expanding the natural right of a citizen to worship as they see fit, to speak and write as they please (especially in opposition to government) and to assemble in protest. The core values - protections against the overreach of Congress and the coercive power of government - reside in these words.

"Congress shall make no law...."

In the United States Senate this week Majority Leader Harry Reid brought to the floor a bill authored by Colorado Senator Mark Udall. The language contained therein would grant Congress the right to make reasonable restrictions on how money is donated or spent in campaigns, and to permit it to restrict (or eliminate) the right of persons associating themselves within state corporate laws from spending money for campaign purposes.

This is, as far as I know, the first time since Prohibition that an amendment to the Constitution has been offered allowing Congress the power to restrict the right of citizens to do anything. That's not all.

This has nothing to do with freedom or political equality - quite the contrary. It is about a select segment of the population fighting over how they compete with each other to enjoy the virtually limitless largesse associated with federal public office. It means that Congress can make laws discriminating against people merely because they have chosen a legal form of business association and wish to express their opinion about who should be elected. It makes it possible for Congress to legislate against those who would seek to take their places.

What's next? Shall we give police the power to search corporate offices without warrants? Can we prohibit corporations from speaking out - at all? Can we seize corporate assets without due process?

Of all of the challenges we are facing as a country, amending the First Amendment isn't one of them. If anything, we should be looking for ways to strengthen it, and to make it easier for men and women to compete for seats in Congress or to help others to do so.

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