The State Of The First Amendment


Michael McGrady Director of McGrady Policy Research
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2017 is certainly a year that has seen the First Amendment challenged from all sides, and it isn’t even half way through March. Believe or not, the First Amendment protections that we have all come to enjoy are so far reaching that freedom of conscience debates can pop up in even the most unlikely of policy areas.

Sadly, though, even as the country is accepting the presidency of Donald Trump, the freedom of conscience for many is at risk. Merely, the term at risk is an understatement to an overt, outright attack on the literal definition of the very first components of our Constitutional rights.

The most obvious scene of where we can see many of these challenges is, of course, the American college campus. Public and private higher education institutions have succumbed to a soft despotism of political correctness and academic censorship that ruins the purpose of a college. Simply put, the college campus has become the breeding ground of the modern day narrative of triggered mentalities for America’s young people entering the work force.

Even more uncharacteristic is that the college campus has also become a breeding ground for identity political warfare dotted with safe spaces for both liberal and conservative students and professors refusing to engage in meaningful debate. As it is put, more crassly by many looking from the outside in, the art of civil discourse in the public square is all but lost.

Once you get away from the college campus, the realm of political debate on the national level has become relatively troubling, as well. When state legislatures and policy makers, all over the country, are continually threatening someone’s free speech, free exercise of religion, or right of association, something needs to be done.

One of the most rancid takeaways from the overall debate is, too often, that the First Amendment is discriminatory to protected classes (i.e. racial groups and the LGBTQ communities for example). By no means should a document protecting all of our rights, with equal application, be deemed defamatory or discriminatory based on the grounds of political disagreement. Though there is legal precedence to argue that anti-discrimination laws in the federal statutes and the First Amendment should not be at odds, the end result typically sees some form of reverse discrimination pushed on the group arguing on the opposition.

To clarify, the fact that reverse discrimination can occur against people wishing to exercise their freedom of conscience (faith, speech, association) is not the proper way to have “equal” protection under all laws.

One of the most evident sentiments that is often overlooked in the quest for rights befitting of all humans is the fact that having equal rights doesn’t entitle a specific group additional rights above those.

In the end, the final remark is that someone’s self-endowed civil liberties should supersede those types of claims and scenarios. Civil liberties and civil rights should complement each other, not conflict.