“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.”
Those words were strategically placed first among our Bill of Rights for a reason. Those philosophical principals are among the most important glue, which binds together the fabric of our democratic republic.
The First Amendment is the supreme law of the land. It’s part of our national identity – a basic philosophy we all share – shielding us from governmental persecution. It’s the most American thing about America.
The words within the First Amendment can not be scratched out with the flick of a governor’s pen.
However, that’s exactly what has happened in New Jersey.
“By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights by issuing this order? How do you have the power to do that?”
“That’s above my pay-grade, Tucker. I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. First of all, we looked at the data and the science and it says people have to stay away from each other.”
The Bill of Rights and Constitution are not above anyone’s pay-grade, governor.
Those two documents were purposefully written in plain language so us common folk could understand the limits of government’s authority.
Nowhere does it say in the Bill of Rights, “In case of emergency, break glass. These rights do not apply.”
On the contrary, it could be argued that during a war or emergency, is when our rights matter the most.
We do not doubt the governor’s intentions. It’s clear, day-in and day-out during his morning press conferences, that he is trying to save lives with his executive orders. It even appears the curve has flattened due to some of these strict orders.
However, the worrisome fact remains, the governors of several states have crossed the line, including our own.
A protester from Toms River was charged by the New Jersey State Police with violating the emergency orders. They gathered outside the Statehouse rallying against the stay-at-home order, according to this news report.
Both of these situations are outliers, of course. The vast majority of religious organizations have voluntarily suspended gatherings – helping to stop the spread of the pandemic – and most of those who oppose the stay-at-home order aren’t marching in the streets.
We are all responsible for defending our rights and for exercising them sensibly. That’s the beauty of our country.
But disappointingly, in our state most newspapers – organizations so indebted to the First Amendment – have remained quiet.
If tomorrow, the governor declared newspapers non-essential business, would they then write angry editorials? Would they then sue the state as the firearms dealers did?
This “war” on the coronavirus has had a terrible economic impact, but it has also caused collateral damage to our rights.
It’s about time we spoke up about it.
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