Can Congress make legal something that is inherently wrong, and can Congress take a freedom that is a part of our humanity and make its exercise criminal?
If there were no First Amendment, would we still have the freedom of speech? The answer, like many in the law, depends on what values underlie the legal system. If the government is the source of our rights, then without the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech, any government could legally punish you for saying words and expressing thoughts it hated or feared; and it could even silence you before you spoke.
On the other hand, if our rights come from our humanity and our humanity is a gift from God, then we would still enjoy the freedom of speech, whether it is insulated from government interference by the First Amendment or not. The wording of the First Amendment itself gives us a peek at what its authors thought. They wrote: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” It doesn’t say that Congress shall grant freedom of speech; rather, it prohibits Congress from interfering with it. And by referring to free speech as the freedom of speech, the drafters recognized that the freedom of speech already existed before the country that they were founding even came to be.
The same founders who drafted the First Amendment also accepted Thomas Jefferson’s values articulated in the Declaration of Independence that we are endowed by our “Creator with certain unalienable rights, (and) that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is clear beyond serious dispute from just scratching the surface of history that wedded to this country at its birth is the Judeo-Christian concept of the natural law. The natural law is the self-evident truth that our rights come from our humanity; that we have them by virtue of our mortal existence; that they do not depend upon government for their existence; that they do not vary as a consequence of where we are now or where our mothers were when we were born; and thus we remain fully endowed of these rights so long as we live, wherever we go. If you believe that we are the present result not of a supreme being, but of natural selection, you can accept as the founders did that humanity – and not government – is the repository of freedom.
I suspect that most people accept the natural law. We have even seen people in the government claim to accept it. Yet almost as soon as they take the oath to uphold these values, they start rejecting them. In the Patriot Act, for example, Congress made it a crime to reveal that the feds came calling on you with a search warrant in which a federal agent authorized himself to search records that you might have. This, of course, not only violates the Fourth Amendment, which stipulates that only judges may authorize searches, but it also violates the First Amendment because it punishes speech.
This week, Congress is wrestling with more proposals that violate the natural law. One of our fundamental natural rights is the right to be free from government restraint, absent a proven case of criminal behavior. This, too, was articulated by the framers when they wrote in the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” This recognizes the right to be free from restraint by the government, unless the government, utilizing due process, can make a case against you. That means a fair trial in your presence, with lawyers defending you and jurors deciding your case under the guidance of a neutral judge.
Yet, your representatives in Congress are about to authorize the president to violate your natural rights by enacting legislation that would permit him to use the military to arrest Americans and restrain them without due process. Even King George III, against whose armies the colonists fought for freedom, did not have the power to do that. And, just because Congress votes to make these acts of tyranny legal does not mean they are constitutional. The Constitution is a higher law than anything Congress can write; and all that Congress writes must conform to it.
Since the Constitution was written to keep the government from violating our natural rights, what can you do when the very government we have hired to protect those rights is violating them? If you live in Iowa or New Hampshire, you can vote for the only Republican candidate running for president who believes that the Constitution means what it says. You know who he is.