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The First Amendment

A quasi-serious topic this week (ooh, aah). Something that I came across in my Ethics textbook, believe it or not, reminded me of something that really ticks me off: people who misinterpret the First Amendment. This book in particular was discussing the UNABOM case, and how he threatened a couple newspapers into printing his "manifesto," thereby infringing on their First Amendment rights. That brought to my mind the issue of campaign finance reform, and how people are always going around claiming that because Candidate Joe Blow can afford advertising and Candidate Jack Flack can't, Flack's First Amendment rights are being trampled.

All the First Amendment says is that the government will not tell you what to say and will not tell you what to print, or what not to. It does not mention freedom from terrorists, and it does not guarantee a printing press, TV air time, or even a Web site to anyone who wants one, on the basis that they're free to say what they want. If I'm mugging you, you threaten to scream for help, and I tell you to shut up or I'll shoot you, I'm assaulting your personal safety, not the First Amendment.

People are perfectly free to say what they want. The government is not allowed to say, "You can't say that" unless you're libeling someone. On the other hand, no one is obligated to help you say it, and this is the thing that seems to be lost at least 50% of the time when this issue comes up.

Just had to get that off my chest.

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Except where otherwise noted, all material on this site is © 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson