Happy belated Constitution Day, everyone! I hope that in a solemn show of national solidarity, you all took a patriotic pause during your beer pong games last Friday to raise a grimy red Solo cup to our favorite and most contentious document. I celebrated with a free lunch and lecture sponsored by the Gephardt Institute, where I listened to law school professors debate the latest goings-on in the Supreme Court, and the meaning of the First Amendment in 21st-century society. Though really, if I’m being honest, it was the poster that drew me in. “The First Amendment: 45 words, five freedoms. Religion. Speech. Press. Assemble. Petition.” As a column writer, I was impressed. That’s some masterly word choice, Founding Fathers.
Within the discussion, it was pointed out that technically, the Constitution mandates that an American can be excused from a formal holiday. For example, a day devoted to state documents that sneaky Sen. Robert Byrd slipped in somewhere during the half century he was in office. Ah, patriotism. What a tangled web you weave! It should be noted that maybe another look at the Constitution wouldn’t be such a bad idea, however. Flipping through one edition’s index, I noticed that the Constitution covers everything from abridgment to yeas (and nays), and though I may still cherish snippets of my AP U.S. History class, my well-rounded constitutional knowledge seems to rust away, bit-by-bit.
You see, I, like most Americans, tend to work mostly with the catch-all, and perhaps the most important facet of our Constitution: the First Amendment. The First comes up a lot in the political spectrum—from a questionable insult shrugged aside (“Hey, it’s a free country!”) to an entire party platform (see movements, Tea Party). It’s one of the reasons that the United States is cited as being so politically free. However, as it was mentioned more than once, the First Amendment is not absolute. We have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of that amendment, to ensure that it is not defiled as an idea. It’s just too bad that we live in the 21st century, in which things are just so tricky.
It is, in fact, our leniency that often gets us in the most trouble. One of the hottest topics on Capitol Hill these days is the case of Fred Phelps, a pastor and head of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Phelps has vendettas against everyone from the late Diana, Princess of Wales, to Mr. Rogers, and he once wrote a letter to Saddam Hussein, praising him for being leader of “the only Muslim state that allows the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to be freely and openly preached on the streets.” What a charmer! Phelps’ latest targets, and the topics of lawsuits, are the funerals of fallen soldiers, whose deaths they see as proof of God’s disgust with America’s condoning of homosexuality. Phelps pleads the First. I plead Hate in the Name of Religion, Unjustly Shielded by Antiquated Conceptions of the Constitution.
A religious extremist might seem far from the idyllic emerald quads of our dear campus, but it is undeniable that we, too, will be confronted at some point with the finer points of constitutional law. We are a generation addicted to the instant satisfaction of quick-fire opinion, as of yet sheltered by a system that simply does not know how to confront this mushroom cloud of conviction prompted by technology. So when a status update from long ago comes back to haunt you, don’t worry. I’ll be keeping my copy of our Constitution around for references.