The second problem is that the First Amendment is about more than the press. In public discussion, First Amendment "experts" and "watchdogs" are really scholars and activists specializing in the little slice dedicated to the press. The Newseum, a gaudy palace in the nation's capital celebrating the news industry, ostentatiously reprints the entire First Amendment on its facade. But if the curators of the Newseum are much interested in the free exercise of religion or the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, I've seen no evidence of it.
White House press secretary and former journalist Jay Carney repeatedly insists that the president is a "strong defender" and "firm believer" in the First Amendment.
Even if that were true when it comes to press freedoms -- and that's highly debatable -- it's absurd when it comes to the rest of the First Amendment, with the small exception of the "establishment of religion" clause. Deeply secular, the press is ever watchful that the government might force someone to listen to a Christian prayer.
But when it comes to the constitutional right to exercise your faith freely, the press drops its love of the First Amendment like a bag of dirt. The president's health-care plan requires religious institutions to violate their core beliefs. To the extent that such concerns get coverage at all, it's usually to lionize "reproductive rights" activists in their battles against religious zealots.
The IRS scandal and the DOJ's assault on the press may be two separate issues, but they are both about the First Amendment. The groups the IRS discriminated against wanted to exert their First Amendment rights to assemble, to petition government and to speak freely. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dubbed angry voters at local town hall meetings "un-American."
Some Americans wanted to exercise their religious conscience. (James Madison, author of the First Amendment, said, "Conscience is the most sacred of all property.") The IRS told one pro-life group in Iowa that it had to promise -- on pain of perjury -- not to protest Planned Parenthood. That is an outrageous assault on the First Amendment as disgusting as anything aimed at the AP or Fox News.
By all means, journalists should be outraged by the president's attitude toward the press. But if you're going to call yourself a defender of the First Amendment, please defend the whole thing and not just the parts you make a living from.
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