Paul Jacob

Independence Day was nice. My kids enjoyed their sparklers and the public firework displays. The traditions of the July 4th holiday went off without a hitch. Well, that is, except for my yearly reflection on the state of our freedom, our actual independence.

Something just seems a bit off. In some ways, we descendants of Sam Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson enjoy tremendous liberty. In other ways, well, not so much.

For instance, we possess an untrammeled right to burn the American flag. Forget the fire code: Government cannot regulate it. The First Amendment robustly protects such politically symbolic speech.

But what good does this do me? I just don’t have any desire to burn the flag.

And consider: Had just one Supreme Court justice switched sides in a recent First Amendment case, a public high school student would now be able to hold up a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at all school events.

Sure, I know it’s hard to accept such smothering censorship. But, again, I’m really not a “banner person.”

What I am, I guess, is a “petition person.” I often work to petition my government. Among the many issues I’ve placed before my fellow citizens, for their practical attention, have been measures to check government spending, cut taxes, term-limit politicians, protect property owners from eminent domain abuse, or any number of other reforms.

This isn’t symbolic speech, mind you, but speech designed to have a very real effect on the government. Moreover, the right to petition is mentioned outright in the First Amendment, while the Constitution’s framers plum forgot to mention flag burning or banners about bong hits.

But when it comes to petitions, our legislators seem to take the opposite tack. They constantly regulate (read: restrict . . . or even abridge) our rights.

In Oregon, the legislature wants to require those who wish to gather petitions for voter initiatives to register with the state and then go through government training classes. What impact the new regulatory regime would have is unclear, except for raising, quite considerably, the cost of putting a measure on the ballot.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.