I recently got into an argument with one of my many Republican friends–this guy is infatuated with Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, a man who would not understand or appreciate the United States Constitution if it bit him where the Florida sun doesn’t shine.
DeSantis, as most of you know, is responsible for Florida’s “Stop Woke” and “Don’t Say Gay” bills.
My friend (and DeSantis) believes and argues that these bills in particular and book-banning in general are necessary to protect the safety and well-being of Florida’s children.
DeSantis is also a strong supporter of gun rights.
After the mass murder/school shootings in Newtown, CT, Parkland, FL, and Uvalde, TX, legislation was proposed in Florida to reform state gun laws.
DeSantis spoke out against the legislation, arguing that it would ‘kneecap’ the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“With all due respect to these leftists,” he said at the time, “they just want to come after your Second Amendment Rights.”
I suggested to my friend that a book never killed anyone and quoted him a statistic that as of 2021, 13.7 out of every 100,000 Florida deaths were caused by gun violence.
I suggested that a better way to protect the safety and well-being of Florida’s children would be to ban assault rifles, not books.
All hell broke loose.
He stood up, called me a left-wing, anti-Constitution pacifist, and walked out of the restaurant.
Let’s try an experiment: Replay the entire scene and exchange a 1st Amendment argument for my friend’s 2nd Amendment argument.
Get the idea? The conversation would go something like this:
Governor DeSantis: “The Stop Woke” and “Don’t Say Gay” bills are attempts to kneecap the rights of law-abiding citizens and students who do not wish to learn a government sponsored, sugar-coated version of history. I will use my veto pen to make sure our precious constitutional rights are preserved. With all due respect to these right-wing zealots, they just want to come after your 1st Amendment rights.”
My friend: “The 1st Amendment is sacrosanct. These right-wing anarchists can’t tell my children what to read! A book, even a controversial book, never hurt anyone. You want to ban classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? You’re nothing but a right-wing anarchist. I’m out of here!”
Okay, maybe this was a lame experiment, but you get the idea.
So-called “constitutional conservatives” have actually been “constitutional hypocrites” for as long as I can remember.
The Bill of Rights provides many examples:.
The 1st Amendment states:
“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.”
The 1st Amendment affords you the right to read this article and one that opposes it in the loudest voice possible.
It is quite clear to anyone who can read that book-banning violates the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
Book-banning legislation is clearly “abridging the freedom of speech.”
Let’s look at the 2nd Amendment:
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The obvious purpose of the Amendment is the right of a citizen to defend him or herself.
It is quite clear that the 2nd Amendment provides that a citizen has that right.
But does a citizen need any gun available on the market to defend him or herself?
A fully automatic weapon, like a machine gun, has been, for all practical purposes, banned since 1934.
We have also successfully banned assault weapons in the past.
I’m no gun expert, but I am certain we could compile a long list of weapons that are obviously not necessary for self-defense.
Thus, despite right-wing politicians’ arguments that any attempts to regulate guns is unconstitutional, we know, historically, that this is not true.
Check out the 4th Amendment:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . .
We have seen multiple examples where the police have abused and violated this Amendment, with the support of pro-police activist Republicans and some Democrats.
Cops are entitled to qualified immunity, however, when they cross the line and violate constitutional rights, our elected officials need to call them on it.
Ever since 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, the government has been playing fast and loose with our 4th Amendment rights, both Republicans and Democrats.
We’re all familiar with the 5th Amendment:
“No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Republicans– in particular, Donald Trump, bashed Hillary Clinton back in 2016, when some of her staffers invoked the 5th Amendment during an investigation into her emails. Here’s what Trump said at the time:
“You see the mob takes the 5th. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the 5th Amendment?”
In the investigation into the January 6th insurrection, a number of Trump advisors took the 5th or attempted to disregard subpoenas.
Trump himself took the 5th over 440 times in the New York Attorney General’s Investigation into his companies’ business practices.
The 6th Amendment states:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . .”
Many readers will recall the infamous Willie Horton ad used by former president George H.W. Bush in his campaign against Michael Dukakis.
When Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, Horton, who was serving a life sentence for murder, raped a woman during a weekend furlough from prison.
Since that time, Republicans have consistently thrown the 6th Amendment out the window for political advantage.
Despite universal criticism for these attack ads, Republican continue to use them in federal and state elections.
The 7th Amendment guarantees:
The right to a jury trial “where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars.”
The Constitution, in particular, the 7th Amendment, hasn’t stopped Republicans (and a few Democrats) from supporting some draconian restrictions on our rights to sue, or the amounts we can collect in civil suits.
The most egregious example of this is in my home state of Michigan, where former governor, John Engler, and a Republican state legislature passed the Michigan Product Liability Act, which provides drug companies almost total immunity from suit, even if a drug is found to be harmful or deadly.
There are hundreds of examples of Republican legislators, supposed “constitutional conservatives,” passing anti-citizen tort reform legislation in violation of the 7th Amendment, cheating injured citizens and survivors of deceased citizens out of just compensation.
Finally, the 8th Amendment invalidated cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail.
But that didn’t stop the government from creating Guantanamo Bay, interring Japanese-American citizens post WW II, or water boarding terrorism suspects.
So, what’s the point of all this, you ask?
You can’t be constitutional hypocrites, pick and choose those constitutional provisions you like and disregard the rest.
Why is the 2nd so important to Republicans, but the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th, not so much?
Back to book-banning and the 1st Amendment . . .
Should the government regulate the books our children read in school or is that the job of parents and teachers?
In 1982, the United States Supreme Court decided Board of Education, et al v Pico in which a group challenged a local school board’s removal of eleven books from the school library, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.
Justice William Brennan wrote the majority opinion:
“Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’ Such purposes stand inescapably condemned by our precedents.”
Book ban attempts are trending all over this country.
At one time or another, classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, The Kite Runner, and Lord of the Rings were on someone’s banned list.
The hypocrisy of it all is palpable.
Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of our democracy.
This basic right was so important to our forefathers, they decided to codify it with the very first amendment to the United States Constitution.
It is a precious freedom not enjoyed in many countries around the world.
Most of us believe that what we have to say is important and should be listened to—sometimes we’re right; sometimes we’re wrong—but all of us should defend our right to say what’s on our minds, so long as it isn’t “hate.”
One of my favorite movie lines of all time comes from a fiery speech delivered by fictional president Andrew Shephard in The American President.
The speech sums up the importance of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution:
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. . .”
Wow! How powerful is that?
Mark M. Bello is an attorney and author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series and children’s social justice/safety picture books.
He also hosts the popular bi-weekly podcast, Justice Counts.
Mark’s books may be found at all online booksellers and on his website, at https://www.markmbello.com.
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