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Whatever Happened to the First Amendment?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Recently, the US Senate attempted but failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act. The vote was 57-41 in favor of the bill -- three votes short of the 60 votes needed to get the bill onto the Senate floor for a straight up or down vote.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 219 to 206. While an overwhelming majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives voted in favor of the DISCLOSE act, a tiny minority of Democrats voted along with the Republicans against the bill.

Congressional Democrat leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid tried to pass the bill quickly so that President Obama could sign it into law, just in time to limit our ability to speak up and speak out going into this November’s election.

Just what is the DISCLOSE Act? Why would it be so harmful to all of us? It is a bill that would have limited free speech in full violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, while squashing the dissent of freedom loving Americans.

For example, the DISCLOSE ACT would:

-Put in place a ban on free speech by stopping certain political advertisements a full 90 days before a Congressional election, and stopping certain political advertisements a full 120 days prior to a Presidential election.

I am just as frustrated as anyone else during election season with the abundance of political advertisements; however, banning the freedom of speech is not the solution.

Curiously, the DISCLOSE Act excluded labor unions, the AARP, the ACLU and the Sierra Club from its free speech limits and restrictions by allowing those organizations to advertise. It is obvious what the Democrats in Congress and President Obama were attempting to do. They were attempting to limit our ability to organize and get out the vote for this November’s elections. This is neither ethical nor legal.

The First Amendment of the Constitution cannot be any more clear and concrete. It reads:

“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 of grievances.”

Yet, “prohibiting the free exercise of speech,” and “abridging the freedom of speech,” is exactly what the DISCLOSE ACT would do. That’s not exactly the “Hope and Change” we were promised.

The DISCLOSE ACT would also:

-Mandate that grassroots political organizations publicize and release the names of their top five contributors.

-Mandate that political organizations expose the address of their top donor's home and workplace in a disclaimer at the end of every television ad.

These parts of the law will allow political donors to be exposed to threats, intimidation and violence by their political rivals. This is precisely what has occurred in California where those who favored Proposition 8, which kept the legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, were then exposed to intimidation, bigotry and even death threats when their names were made public.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of defining marriage a certain way, no one in America should face harassment, intimidation or threats of violence for expressing his or her deeply held beliefs. Whatever happened to the First Amendment?

Obama and the majority of Democrats in Congress are not exactly fools. Many of them are Ivy League educated, with law degrees to boot. Surely, they know what the First Amendment says and means. Nonetheless, they have made it common practice to water down the meaning of the First Amendment on more than one occasion.

About a month ago, around the 4th of July holiday, which is supposed to be the celebration of our nation’s independence and birth as a free nation, the Obama administration attempted to restrict the use of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) internet usage. An internal email obtained by CBS News reported, “The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) is blocking certain websites from the federal agency’s computers, including halting access by staffers to any Internet pages that contain a ‘controversial opinion’.”

While we all can agree that some Internet material is off limits in a work setting, the category of a “controversial decision” is so vague that any web site could qualify as such. One has to wonder just what a “controversial decision” web site might look like. Would make the cut?

After much public outrage, the free speech limiting policy was pulled and those employed by the TSA can now enjoy the same freedoms guaranteed to all Americans -- even though they should not have been in jeopardy in the first place.

There is more evidence of the watering down of our First Amendment liberties by the Obama administration.

Last November, following the Fort Hood shootings, President Obama began using the phrase “freedom of worship,” instead of “freedom of religion." Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State, continued the chant when giving a speech at Georgetown University a month later. Since that time his administration has repeatedly replaced the phrase "freedom of religion" for the freedom of worship” in public statements.

What’s the difference you may ask? Well, first of all, the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religious expression in the public arena, as well as the freedom to worship in a private place or setting. Using the phrase “freedom of worship” is a more restrictive representation of our Constitutional liberties.

Some have speculated that the Obama administration may be attempting to appease other religions by not appearing to advocate Christian proselytizing. For the sake of political correctness or even cultural sensitivity, Obama and the Democrats very well could be selling our liberties in exchange for superficial gestures of peace.

Christianity Today reported in June of this past year that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found the Obama administration’s semantically altered phrase a concern in its 2010 annual report. The commission said, "This change in phraseology could well be viewed by human rights defenders and officials in other countries as having concrete policy implications."

If you think this is a stretch, think about what Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom and member of the commission said: “Freedom of worship means the right to pray within the confines of a place of worship or to privately believe. It excludes the right to raise your children in your faith; the right to have religious literature; the right to meet with co-religionists; the right to raise funds; the right to appoint or elect your religious leaders, and to carry out charitable activities, to evangelize, [and] to have religious education or seminary training."

So human rights activists agree, the “freedom of worship” is a much more limiting category of expression than “freedom of religion,” which is what the Constitution actually guarantees. You have to admit, there does appear to be an eerie reoccurring pattern of limiting the free expression of ideas, carried out by the Obama administration and most of the Democrats in Congress.

Shea continued, "It is so critical for Western, especially American, leaders to articulate strong defense for religious freedom and explain what that means and how it undergirds our entire civilization."

Simply allowing citizens to worship in private is not what America is all about. America is all about allowing the free expression of beliefs and ideas in the public arena to flourish. We may not be comfortable with what someone else believes, but it’s the right of all American citizens to believe as we see fit. Limiting free speech in the name of political correctness or cultural sensitivity harms all of us. If we do not allow ourselves to hear different points of view, then we cannot make informed decisions.

We will be forced to live in ignorance.

James Madison, the father of the US Constitution, once said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." This knowledge can only be obtained when we allow more freedom, not less, to abound.

Whether you believe the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress are purposely redefining the meaning of the First Amendment, or just simply cowering to the pressures of a politically correct worldview, one thing is for sure: the interpretation of the First Amendment by Obama and the overwhelming majority of Congressional Democrats does not exactly line up with what the Constitution actually states. This should concern us all.

Who among us is willing to give up even one freedom in order to fit in with the politically correct way of thinking? If we are willing to give up some of our freedoms, which freedoms do we place on the chopping block and which ones do we retain?

It is a slippery slope for sure, one that we must never entertain.

As John Adams said, “A Constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever."

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