Van Beek: First Amendment rights, except for … |

Van Beek: First Amendment rights, except for …

First Amendment rights are for everyone, and are most essential when discussing issues of critical importance like race relations, COVID-19, urban riots, school openings, or the economy. We must not be intimidated, because it is through these discussions that lasting solutions evolve.

During an election year, even benign subjects become contentious. Suddenly inanimate objects like masks take on political party affiliation. And, while there have always been disagreements between candidates, we have never seen such vitriol spewed on a regular basis, between elected officials and subsequently, their supporters. 

While everyone agrees that things have gone well beyond what most would consider, acceptable discourse, nothing seems to change … we all continue on this negative path, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The First Amendment has never been so stretched as it has been over the past several years.

Amendment I: “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.” 

So important were these concepts that of all the priorities a new nation deems important, the United States selected these as its No. 1 priority. Why can’t we respect the diversity of opinion that is certain to arise in a melting pot of culture? 

As we identify with certain groups, we soon discover that the variety and number of groups of which we could affiliate make us unique among our fellow Americans … which is our common thread. Yet some, while praising our differences, simultaneously condemn our similarities, demanding that we select only one identity group and that we must behave according to a prescribed, and dare I say, discriminatory, set of actions, exclusive to that group.

All cultural distinctions are represented in both political parties; it’s arrogant to assume an affiliation of one over another. As Americans, we are not single-issue voters, and nothing stirs us up more than being told that our behavior must be dictated by only one distinguishing characteristic, whether that be the amount of melanin in our skin, our gender, our religion, or anything else. We are all uniquely American, with independent thought and individual dreams. 

What I am approached with most often are law enforcement issues.  Assumptions are made that the negative actions of a few are prominent among all; nothing could be further from the truth. 

When someone betrays the oath that we all take, we are the ones most offended. Generally, people understand this, and our greatest supporters are those who live in violent neighborhoods, where it is the local police officer that stands between them and, oftentimes, death. Yet, those who speak out in support of police, are targeted and even threatened, for voicing their opinion. That’s not freedom of speech, particularly when approached by a mob mentality. 

Suddenly, the vow to protect and serve … the risking of one’s life to assist another, has become a political football. It is not political, it is civil. The same holds true of those who decide to serve their communities through elected office.

A person puts themselves out there, for public scrutiny, many times at great personal expense, and they are treated with tremendous disrespect and even contempt. While some may run for less-than-ideal principles, most are your neighbors and friends, who just want to give you a voice in the process of governance, and in turn, make this world a little better place for all.

However, recently the conversation has been less about the exchange of ideas and more about an attack on differences. Even stealing political signs is a hostile act against our democracy, which also carries a legal penalty; in some states, it’s a felony with a fine and jail time. But worst of all, it is a sign of intolerance of diverse thought, which we have developed against anyone who opposes our personal beliefs … a way of silencing the voice of others.

Let’s bring less blame and more civility to the discourse of policy and community ideas. Let’s also realize that not everyone represents the worst of what we see in some. 

“People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take.” — Emma Goldman

Let us continue to maintain independent thought, with the courage to return to civility. 

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