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The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is very simple on its face. It was proposed in 1789 and ratified (approved by the constitutionally requisite number of states to make it effective as law) in 1791. And, ever since then it has been subject to the interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts and States across the country. In its entirety, The First Amendment states:
“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 (Links to an external site.) of grievances.” (Emphasis added).
Clear enough. If you want to gather peaceably and protest against our government, you are said to be free to do so. In support of this concept, the U.S. Supreme Court has even gone as far as to legally allow members of the public to burn the American flag in a public place and the Court allowed the burning because it considered it to be a form of political expression—even, going so far as to declare Congress’s Flag Protection Act of 1989 unconstitutional. (see:http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/desecration.htm (Links to an external site.)http://civilliberty.about.com/od/freespeech/p/flagburning.htm (Links to an external site.)
http://www.esquilax.com/flag/chronlog.shtml (Links to an external site.)) and Texas v. Johnson, pp. 112-113 in our textbook.
Analysis: But what if you felt that the U.S. Supreme Court itself was out of line and wanted to protest its actions? A number of people have been publicly protesting the high Court’s decisions as of late, particularly, in the wake of decisions such as Citizen’s United v. The Federal Election Commission, pp. 113-114 in our textbook.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQuRFMgrXds (Links to an external site.)).
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the necessity of protecting our nation’s highest court. And, yet, while today we live in constant fear of terrorism, I still find it interesting that the U.S. Supreme Court has essentially declared that it is above the law and that the First Amendment can apply virtually anywhere else but on the Supreme Court’s grounds. Here is the language of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ban on public demonstrations on its grounds:
“Pursuant to the authority and responsibilities set forth in 40 U.S.C. §6102, the following regulations governing the Supreme Court Building and grounds were prescribed by the Marshal and approved by the Chief Justice of the United States.”
This regulation is issued under the authority of 40 U.S.C. § 6102 to protect the Supreme Court building and grounds, and persons and property thereon, and to maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds. Any person who fails to comply with this regulation may be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment pursuant to 40 U.S.C. § 6137. This regulation does not apply on the perimeter sidewalks on the Supreme Court grounds. The Supreme Court may also make exceptions to this regulation for activities related to its official functions.
No person shall engage in a demonstration within the Supreme Court building and grounds. The term “demonstration” includes demonstrations, picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers. The term does not include casual use by visitors or tourists that is not reasonably likely to attract a crowd or onlookers.
While we might defend the Court’s actions in our current era of terrorism, we still have to ask whether or not this ban will ultimately have a long-term derogatory impact on freedom that can then be applied as “appropriate” in other situations and locales, thereby eroding the very thing that makes us free—the right to challenge the “King” (i.e., government) when it appears to be tyrannical.