I think the Bill of Rights is overdue for a re-write. The meaning and purpose of the First and Second Amendments have been distorted beyond recognition.
The First Amendment, particularly as it applies to freedom of speech, would benefit from clarification about what precisely is protected and from whom. Perhaps something like, "Each citizen has the right to grunt like a rutting pig without government sanction, but no other citizen may be compelled to invite him to dinner."
This clarification is offered in response to folks who lamented the "encouraged" resignation of Wolfeboro, N.H. Police Commissioner Robert Copeland last month. Copeland, as reported around the nation, was overheard referring to President Obama by the N-word in a restaurant. When confronted with the allegation, Copeland dug his dirty hole a bit deeper by responding, "For this, I do not apologize -- he meets and exceeds my criteria for such." He also wrote, "It is the exercise of my 1st Amendment rights."
Although Wolfeboro town officials claimed no statutory right to dismiss Copeland, public outcry eventually led the 82-year-old to resign. And, predictably, some conservatives concluded that the real evil here was the violation of Copeland's First Amendment rights.
Copeland's story is a minor footnote compared to the endless fascination with the other octogenarian racist, Donald Sterling, whose taped conversations with his "girlfriend" drew a lifetime NBA ban, a $2.5 million fine and the forced sale of his L.A. Clippers franchise. Poor Sterling and his estranged wife will now have to stagger to the bank with the $2 billion in proceeds from the sale. But, predictably again, for some conservatives the greater violation was of Sterling's First Amendment rights. Political correctness run amok, they claim.
The First Amendment restrains the government from restricting speech or expression. It neither explicitly nor implicitly requires any citizen to silently endure offensive, divisive and hateful utterances. Copeland would have constitutional protection if Wolfeboro's officials tried to confine him in his own jail, but the response to Copeland's protected speech was public expression. More speech resulted in his resignation. That's constitutionally robust. This is the collective weight of community civility brought to bear on uncivil behavior. He is still free to shout the n-word on the street corner of his choice. His rights were not violated.
Nor did Donald Sterling face any government sanction. If anything, his "speech" has been amplified, not restrained. The disproportionate attention afforded Sterling provided him with more rope to hang himself in the public square. I'm sure any number of cable networks will continue to provide him with endless time to rant and rage about the "blacks" or the promiscuity of Magic Johnson. What he discovered is that even a nation still steeped in structural racism has some limits to its tolerance.
As to the Second Amendment, the re-write is necessary because of the current Supreme Court's supremely illogical interpretation. The Amendment, as it appears in most printed copies outside of Antonin Scalia's library, begins, "A well regulated Militia . . ." The conservative majority, led by its piper-in-chief Scalia, construed the Amendment to mean that any yahoo has the unfettered right to carry any weapon anywhere, anytime, except in the Supreme Court building.
The inevitable result has been to further encourage gun insanity. Nothing says hospitality like an assault rifle. In Texas, good ol' boys and girls are brandishing military assault rifles at places like Chipotle restaurants and the local Home Depot. The Washington Post published a photo of a mother carrying her 10 month-old twins, one in each arm, assault rifle slung over her shoulder. You never know when you might need a gun. At first even the NRA was freaked out, tweeting that this was "weird" and "just not neighborly." This incensed the open carry advocates and the NRA quickly retreated and apologized for offending these fine citizens.
So, my suggested revision to the Second Amendment: Never mind. Just repeal it. There is no wording that this Court wouldn't twist to support concealed carry in kindergarten or assault weapons in family restaurants.
What is at stake is the very nature of our increasingly uncivil society. Leaning on the First Amendment while spewing racist bile is infantile. And interpreting the Second Amendment to allow any idiot to carry a weapon to a school, church, home improvement store or restaurant is worse than infantile. It is crazy.
But if re-writes are not forthcoming, the rest of us have constitutional rights to sanction, marginalize, force to resign, fine, fire, shun and shout down this insanity.
This piece appeared in the Valley News