The Free Exercise of Rights without Government Intimidation

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

In response, I condemn the U.S. State Department and the Obama Administration for its intimidation against Americans exercising their constitutionally protected freedom of speech.  That the Obama Administration should violate the First Amendment’s Establishment clause by acting as the strong arm of the theists demonstrates that the danger of theocratic dictates over Americans comes from the Democrats as well as the Republicans; as another example, observe that President Obama has argued that his policies, such as Obamacare, are an implementation of Christian doctrine.

Statue of Muhammad included on the U.S. Supreme Court’s building

In history related to government infringement of individuals freely exercising their constitutionally protected rights, we should consider the Supreme Court rulings in Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940) and West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).  As the facts of the cases are substantially the same and the rulings differ, it is worth considering the facts in reality that shifted the Supreme Court to protecting individual rights from infringement by the government.

At issue were Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been expelled from public school because they refused to comply with government orders to participate in morning flag salute rituals.  The students claimed that these contradicted their faithful interpretation of Exodus and the admonition against worshiping graven images.

In Gobitis, the Court ruled the state had a valid interest in promoting patriotism that was more important than the student’s right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.  What was the reaction to the Court’s ignoring constitutionally protected rights?  Let me quote from Lee Epstein and Thomas G. Walker:

There were extraordinary repercussions from the Court’s decision in Gobitis.  After the ruling many states either retained or passed laws requiring flag salutes and pledges for all public school children and threatening to expel anyone who did not comply.  What was startling was the violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses.  “Within two weeks of the Court’s decision,” two federal officials later wrote, “hundreds of attacks upon the Witnesses were reported to the Department of Justice.”  Viewing their refusal to salute the flag as unpatriotic—especially as the country fought in World War II—mobs throughout the United States stoned, kidnapped, beat, and even castrated Jehovah’s Witnesses. [Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Rights, Liberties, and Justice, 4thed., p. 111]

I note that these were Christians committing violence against other Christians, because they disagreed about a biblical interpretation.  While such doctrinal violence is common today in the Islamic civil war of Muslims killing Muslims, the separation of church and state in America prevents religious disputes from being armed by government force.

In the face of its obvious error in Gobitis, in Barnette, the Supreme Court overruled itself, but did so on free speech grounds.  The shift of emphasis demonstrates that we Americans enjoy the protection of many overlapping constitutionally protected rights that limit action by our government.

While conclusions by the Jehovah’s Witnesses were detached from reality and irrational, they have a constitutionally protected right to be wrong.  In the case of the Obama Administration versus Americans’ freedom of speech, the issue is not whether that speech is well reasoned, but that the government should keep its threats out of the marketplace of ideas as individuals freely discuss these ideas.

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1 Response to The Free Exercise of Rights without Government Intimidation

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Books for Selfish Citizens, 4th Quarter 2012 | Selfish Citizenship

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