Taking the First

Your first visit? Why do I call this page Taking the First? Here’s why. It springs from the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment. That’s where Americans find our sacred free speech rights. I’ve long believed in the adage use it or lose it.

That certainly applies to constitutional rights. Especially free speech.

Accused criminals regularly invoke their constitutional rights. This includes the right to remain silent. Correct? That right is found in the 5th Amendment of our Bill of Rights, alongside Due Process and protection from double jeopardy. Colloquially, invoking the right to remain silent is called taking the 5th.

Therefore, whenever this ever-cautious, so-called retired prosecutor vigorously exercises his 1st Amendment rights, doesn’t it make sense that the space where all my online opinions are dispensed is called Taking the 1st?

Like you, I believe in generously exercising my precious free speech rights. Use ‘em or lose ‘em. The same rights criminals use apply to us. Having said that, let’s move on to our topic of the moment.

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Stars ‘n Bars: Racist Fabric or Free Speech?

8-3-15

Recently, an apparent racist murdered several people at their South Carolina house of worship. A great hue and cry erupted, seeming to blame this mindless slaughter of innocents on the Confederate Battle flag, commonly called the Stars ‘n Bars. Why? The killer likes this flag.

While no reasonable person can ever condone murder, for any reason, it disturbs me that so many so-called national leaders are missing a fundamental point. The choice to display, or not display, a flag is a free speech issue. Restricting same is restricting a precious constitutional right.

As a highly relevant aside, I’ve been studying the U.S. Constitution since I commenced law school in 1975. Grasping the need to protect free speech doesn’t mean we must endorse verbiage third parties write, type, or speak.

A vivid example of this is a case I studied in 1977 called The National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, ultimate heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The local Nazi party decided to parade through Skokie, IL, a heavily Jewish-populated community.

Not too surprisingly, the elders of Skokie refused to grant the required permit. The ACLU agreed to represent the Nazis. And, the case was decided by our nation’s highest court. The Court ruled the First Amendment’s free speech clause guaranteed the Nazis the right to hold such a parade.

I don’t believe one has to be a constitutional scholar to draw parallels between that decades-old case and a contemporary decision by any American to embrace display of the Confederate battle flag, if they so choose, irrespective of their reason for choosing to do so.

Is this not the same right Americans have to display our beloved Stars & Stripes, in contravention of restrictive rules created by Homeowner Associations? I’ve spoken to many military veterans who say they defend to the death the right of others to say something they disagree with.

The fundamental difference between the USA and other countries that do not embrace free speech is our right to say whatever we wish, within reason. Former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglass said it best in yet another free speech case I studied in law school.

Does the 1st Amendment freedom of speech clause give a man the right to yell fire in a crowded theater?, Justice Douglas asked, or used words to that effect. That tells me the unofficial litmus test is whether what one is doing is reasonable. Flags don’t kill people. Murderers do that just fine, on their own.

Free speech: use it or lose it! Comments welcome…

Martin C. Brhel, Jr.   

NOTE: TAKING THE FIRST™ IS A TRADE NAME. EVERY TAKING THE FIRST™ COLUMN IS COPYRIGHTED AND AWAITING TRADEMARK. NO REPRODUCTION OR USAGE OF ANY TYPE OF THE NAME TAKING THE FIRST™, OR ANY OF THE MATERIAL CONTAINED HEREIN, IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER, MAY BE LEGALLY DONE WITHOUT THE EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION OF MARTIN C. BRHEL, JR.

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