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Freedom of speech. Period.

“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.”

– First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

I guess it’s time for another lesson on the First Amendment.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s so difficult to understand about these 45 words – most of them only one syllable.

Yet, lately, they have been misconstrued, misunderstood, misapplied, ignored, distorted and turned upside down and around more than would seem possible – without being purposeful.

Today’s lesson is on “freedom of speech.”

Let’s be clear that the First Amendment didn’t invent the notion of freedom of speech. Instead, the founders who wrote the Constitution and crafted the Bill of Rights understood our freedoms, our individual rights, our personal liberties were inalienable – meaning they derived not from government decree, but from the Creator of the universe and His natural laws.

The Constitution was designed not to create rights or privileges for Americans, but to guarantee that a future government would not trespass on our God-given freedoms.

Freedom of speech is one of those God-given rights. But the Congress of the United States, despite a clear prohibition against abridging that right, is indeed considering just such an illegal, immoral, unconstitutional action.

I’m talking about an effort to bring back the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” – abandoned in 1987.

The rule required radio and television stations to provide “balanced” coverage. But, like most efforts by government, it had exactly the opposite effect. Like most efforts by government, it also had very negative unintended consequences.

By requiring “balance,” it mandated against controversy and free debate. In 1980, seven years before the “Fairness Doctrine” was abandoned, there were 75 talk-radio stations in America. Today, there are 1,300.

If the “Fairness Doctrine” is resurrected, that number will shrink, once again, as station owners decide it is simply too much trouble to ensure balance and “equal time” for every imaginable opposing opinion.

And that’s precisely why some of the proponents of this legislation are pushing it. They want to see an end to the era of Rush Limbaugh. They want to silence the likes of Michael Savage. They would like to see the day when radio stations across America are afraid to take Joseph Farah’s new radio show.

It might seem like this is a no-brainer – given President Bush has already suggested he would veto any bill that brings back the old, discredited, abandoned, speech-squelching Federal Communications Commission rules. But, believe it or not, Republicans in the House of Representatives are about 40 votes shy of the 146 needed to sustain the president’s threatened veto. Likewise, opponents in the Senate are worried about having enough support simply to sustain a presidential veto. That’s how shaky is our foundation of freedom of speech in this country right now.

A vote here or a vote there could end another constitutionally guaranteed, God-given right.

In other words, it’s not just Democrats who want to end free speech as we know it in this country, the Republicans are ready to fall on that sword as well.

Could it be a result of misunderstanding? Could it be that our elected leaders have simply failed to read the First Amendment lately? Could it be they don’t understand those simple words?

I don’t think so. Both parties regularly violate the Constitution without so much as a second thought. No matter what the end result of this debate, it’s clear the debate should not even be taking place – because Congress has no power to curtail free speech.

But let the people be aware of what is happening. When illegitimate authority rears its ugly head, it’s time to take our country back.