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The Free Exercise of Stupidity: Dr. Laura, the 'Ground Zero Mosque,' and the First Amendment

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Last week's two biggest media story brouhahas were Dr. Laura's n-word gaff and the Ground Zero mosque, both of which commentators insist are First Amendment issues. They are not. Here's why. First, let's review the First...

"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."

(Most people forget that there are actually five freedoms protected in the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly, petition.)

Laura Schlessinger says that she is quitting her job as the biggest female radio show host in the galaxy because, she told Larry King: "I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what is on my mind." Sarah Palin chimed in on Twitter that Schlessinger's First Amendment rights "ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence her."

Wrong. The First Amendment applies only to what the government cannot do. No government agency is demanding that Dr. Laura step down. No laws are being passed to silence radio talk show hosts (at least not yet -- recall last year's cultural scuffle over whether liberals should be given equal time on all radio shows, including conservative talk radio). This is not a First Amendment issue in the least. Dr. Laura is free to exercise her First Amendment rights to say what is on her mind, including her stupefyingly ignorant opinion that blacks are being hypersensitive when called the N-word by whites. In turn, blacks, whites, and anyone else not from another planet are free to remind Dr. Laura what has transpired over the past half century here on Earth since she's been away on Mars.

The "Ground Zero mosque" issue is equally clearly not a First Amendment issue because, near as I can figure, it is not being built on government land, it is not being funded by taxpayers' dollars, and it is not a public building. To that extent, it's none of the government's business what the owners and financiers of the building want to do with their private property, so they are free to build a mosque near Ground Zero (it's two blocks away, by the way, not "at" Ground Zero), and by the fourth right of the First Amendment, people are free to peacefully assemble to remind said private land holders and building builders what happened in that neighborhood a scant nine years ago next month.

The government is not -- and never should be -- in the business of regulating stupidity or making laws respecting the free exercise thereof.