Much has been said and written warning of threats to the rights that the First and Second Amendments guarantee to U.S. citizens. Countless millions of dollars in campaign cash have been raised against the inarguable fact that the rights of citizens are under persistent attack and at serious risk of being stolen by Washington politicians.
Both political parties engage their supporters on this front. Liberal Democrats incite fear that Republicans will strip them of sin rights: abortion, unnatural forms of sexuality, recreational drug use, and freedom from controversy. Conservative Republicans motivate their constituents by pointing out threats to licit, clearly articulated Constitutional rights.
We must act now, or all will be lost, is the common plea from the political right. But I would suggest that, like closing the barn door after the horses have run off, the warnings came decades too late and have not been heeded.
More than most other concerns, fears that liberal politicians will impose oppressive gun control regulations on them, animate conservatives during every modern election. And while the Second Amendment’s right to “keep and bear arms” is certainly intact in word of law, the mandate that it “shall not be infringed” is not.
Restrictions on the types of arms, the number that can be purchased or owned by individuals, laws governing how they must be stored and the places into which they can be carried—all whittle away at the fundamental right to keep and bear. Local, state and federal laws that limit the amount and type of ammunition that can be possessed by private citizens also obstruct the Second Amendment.
In order to break down public resistance to nefarious gun control policies, they are routinely couched as “common-sense gun regulations.” But laws that strip citizens of their rights, however subtle and seemingly reasonable, are no less hostile than open opposition.
Perhaps the most serious erosion of constitutional liberty has occurred largely unnoticed, and not to the Second Amendment, but to the First. Amendment One guarantees five specific rights that Congress is either expressly forbidden to restrict or commissioned to defend. And while Congress has neither prohibited nor restricted them outright by legislation, they are already gone or swiftly evaporating.
The case can be made that First Amendment rights are listed in order of importance. Our foundational document guarantees freedom of religion, but do we possess it? That depends upon who you ask. Limitations on religious liberty occur largely by means of contamination, by revisionist expansion, and by regulation.
America’s framers clearly understood the Christian faith to be “the one true religion” with Islam, cults, and eastern spiritual practices to be excluded from constitutional guarantees. We can argue the fact, but it remains abundantly clear from their voluminous writings on the subject.
Today, however, virtually any form of organized worship or spiritual exercise can claim religious status, receive tax-exempt benefits, and federal legal protection. This is because the contemporary definition of religion has been contaminated with all sorts of alternative interpretations. People of conscience can argue whether or not it should be so, but not the reality that the common definition of religion has become polluted by inclusion.
Public expression of religion has been severely restricted by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and various federal courts through persistent revisionist expansion of the definition of establishment. The late Supreme Court Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, wrote in his dissenting opinion in one of these cases, the Court’s decision “bristles with hostility toward all things religious.” Of course, only the Christian religion is subject to such close inspection by liberal jurists, and only the Great Faith is treated as an existential threat to Constitutional integrity by antagonist and professor alike.
Freedom of religion has been subject to open assault by Congress since 1956 when, as a U.S. Senator, Lyndon Baines Johnson, slipped a provision into a defense appropriations bill that gave the Internal Revenue Service the authority to revoke the tax-exemption of any church or religious organization that engages in political advocacy. Why?
Back in Texas, Johnson had previously lost an election bid, ostensibly because the pastor of a large church in his district opposed Johnson’s godless policies. The so-called, Johnson Amendment has blown a persistent and blistering chill, not only on political involvement by the Church, but also on the willingness of pastors to preach the truth about sin and its consequences. This is just fine for Democrats and their abortion-driven and LGBTQ-sympathetic supporters.
Now, motivated by COVID19 fears engendered by dubious and dire CDC pandemic warnings, exaggerated exposure rates, and media reports of spikes and surges, state and local officials are using virus concerns as justification to limit, and even prohibit, public gatherings in general, and Christian worship services in particular.
In this way, freedom of religion and the right to peaceably assemble are both abridged simultaneously. Embarrassingly, most U.S. citizens and many professing Christians are all too eager to comply with specious abrogations of their rights, thereby demonstrating on what their faith actually rests.
What about freedom of speech? It’s conditional today. If you doubt this, just speak critically about Islam or LGBTQ sin rights, and you will quickly learn that the freedom’s rightful purpose has been stolen.
Not even a U.S. president enjoys this freedom. President Trump has been silenced by leftist censors on social media platforms based on sophistical opinions of bogus fact-checkers. When his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany raised voter fraud concerns on the Fox network, she was quickly shut down. Decades ago, Francis Schaeffer rightly declared, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.”
Freedom of the press is a similar delusion. When all major media outlets are run by large corporations that share a common aversion to individual liberty and subjective interpretations of moral and civil law, the press is not free, but imposing. Watch any network news program and you will see little deviation from the storyline of the day’s edition of the New York Times.
Rights that are written on paper but denied in practice are mere illusions of liberty. Americans may one day get them back, but not without costly sacrifices, and most probably, rivers of shed blood.© Timothy Buchanan
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.