"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 other day I was at Tops politely stopping all the customers so that I could tell them about our Lord and Savior, Howie Balaban. Some of the customers abridged my First-Amendment right by refusing to stop and listen. I was most offended. To make matters worse, the manager came out and told me I was not allowed “harass” the customers. Did he not care about the Constitution at all? I mean … I was establishing religion and he was prohibiting my exercise thereof.
Then on Saturday, I invited myself to an American Region meeting for the same purpose. Surely the patriotic folks there would allow me to exercise my rights of free speech while they peaceably assembled. But no. Even at the American Region meeting, I was denied my Balaban-given rights as scripted by our founders.
Does no one understand the First Amendment?
Some surely do but if you thought for a second that either of my examples were an abridgement of my right to free speech, you are sorely mistaken.
Sadly, the founders wrote the Constitution in legal-ese. It makes sense, since it is a legal document. But it’s a shame because it has resulted in a lot of people not understanding what should be simple concepts.
Re-read that first paragraph again, please. I’ll wait.
Okay, so the founders took 45 words to say that which I can sum up in 13: “The government can’t tell you what you can or can’t say or worship.”
The first two words are key there. “The government.” In my two fictitious examples above, it wasn’t the government preventing me from speaking. And in fact, in neither situation was I actually prevented from extolling the virtues of one Howie Balaban. I was just asked to extoll them elsewhere.
See, the Constitution -- and by extension, the Bill of Rights -- is a contract between us and the government. It has very little to do with our interactions with one another. No matter how strongly you believe something, I am not duty-bound to listen, nor am I duty-bound to provide you a platform for it. The same holds true for any private business, citizen, newspaper, even the radio station. I can’t tell you the number of people who complained that I was denying their “free-speech” when I was on WLVL. As I told them then, they were welcome to speak their mind. It didn’t mean I had to broadcast it.
Now, why do I say this? Because apparently in beautiful Lockport, New York, you can’t even have a parade without controversy -- without someone accusing someone else of “denying their free speech” because they weren’t allowed to address an audience at a private service organization. And I just wanted to take a moment to put it into perspective. Because no matter what you may have heard, I’m actually a nice guy. And I’m kind of smart … at least when it comes to the Constitution.
Scott Leffler is a figment of your imagination. Any memories you may have of him are probably made up by your own psyche. But he does have a degree in Political Science and he’s on Twitter: @scottleffler.
This column was originally published on Niagara's Water Cooler.