Monday, November 14, 2016

Are First Amendment Rights Now At Risk?

Throughout his campaign Donald Trump attacked the media - usually for reporting the truth about him.  Moreover, he made pronouncements about changing the libel laws to stifle critics.  On the freedom of religion front, he has pledged to sign federal legislation granting special rights to Christian extremists who would be permitted to discriminate at will and trample on the religious freedom rights of others.  Some are saying that they hope Trump's calm appearance on 60 Minutes last night shows that he is "making a pivot" toward normal, acceptable behavior.  But how does one trust a man who flip flops constantly and seems to say whatever he sees as expedient at any moment in time.  And then there is the reality of the extremists being give positions in Trump's transition team and thereafter in his administration. Don't actions speak louder than words?  A column in the Washington Post stresses the need for vigilance and opposition to whatever erosion of civil rights may be in the offing.  Here are highlights:
What really makes America great?
It’s the meaning of 45 words found in the Bill of Rights. Here they are, the entire First Amendment: “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.”
Everything we have — everything that makes us unlike any other nation — flows from those words and the protections they offer for free expression.
Donald Trump’s presidency is very likely to threaten those First Amendment rights.
If they are damaged or removed, we’ll be like a lot of unenviable places.
“Freedom of speech is a rare thing, after all. It’s one of the big differences between the United States and a place like Cuba,” wrote John Daniel Davidson last March in the Federalist. “Cuba has no freedom of the press — or rule of law. Libel is whatever the regime says it is.”
These are rights that allow us to march in the streets, to worship freely, to publish tough stories about the government.
Trump has made it clear that he has no intention of protecting or defending those rights. He has said repeatedly that he wants to change the laws that allow the press to publish news — however imperfectly — without fear of punishment.
He has called journalists “scum” and encouraged his followers to abuse and hate them. He would like to see his political opponent locked up.
Nothing but campaign rhetoric? Clean slate time? No way. . . . . It’s already happening. Trump barred reporters from his first official act as president-elect — his visit to the White House. Then, in a tweet, he blamed the media for “inciting” street protests, when there was no evidence of that.
Meanwhile, Corey Lewandowski, who carried out Trump’s press blacklist and reportedly roughed up a female reporter, was preparing for a possible role in the Trump administration. And Steve Bannon, chairman of the alt-right Breitbart News, was named chief strategist on Sunday.
“We’re facing a moment that threatens equal protection, due process, free expression, democracy — not just press freedom,” wrote Brian Beutler in the New Republic. “It’s not a drill.”
Americans should be confronted, he said, with whether they “really want a state-controlled Ministry of Information under the thinly veiled guise of a Pravda-like press.”
Indeed, in countries where the government controls the press, and which lack other speech protections, journalists are jailed, even killed, as they try to do their work. Citizens are afraid to express their views publicly or to assemble. Until now, the United States has been a beacon for them.
Look the situation in the eye; know how bad it is. That’s the pessimism of the intellect.
As for the optimism-of-the-will part? For journalists, it’s writing and reporting aggressively and fearlessly, and being willing to fight for access. For citizens, it’s being well-informed, including subscribing to newspapers and supporting the best journalism. It’s helping to debunk and call out fake news. It’s donating to, or getting involved with, civil rights and media rights organizations. And it’s backing public officials committed to protecting free expression.
Americans certainly shouldn’t move to Canada, but they should heed the words of the Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
We’ve still got our precious First Amendment rights. Now it’s time — high time — to protect them from the fire.

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