A nation in distress: The ever eroding First Amendment

American-ConstitutionOver the summer, I had a student send me a Facebook message telling me that if I did not stop posting politically and religiously based content, she was going to contact the Facebook administration and report my offensive content.  I shared her comments with a few of my Facebook friends, but before I had done it, I actually considered what had happened – because she did not want to be bothered by my content, she would rather report me to the “Facebook authorities” and have my account revoked than to simply unfriend me.  In other words, it was nothing more than an attempt to censor free speech and silence opposition to her world view.

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.

First Amendment, United States Constitution.

Over the last couple of weeks there have been a few trends that should have all Americans extremely concerned.  The first involves new powers that the FBI are being empowered with through the executive branch.  The second involves what both the IRS and the FBI are claiming as being “implied powers” given to them by executive mandate.  Within the functioning of our national government, there has always been an understanding that the various executive agencies operate within the guidelines of laws passed by Congress and that executive agency policies do not supersede laws passed by Congress or expand beyond defined limits.  In all fairness, there have been times before the Obama administration where executive agencies have acted independently and expanded their own authority; one might be tempted to justify it under the knowledge that the nature of bureaucracy begets more bureaucracy.  The problem is that if bureaucratic power is expanded with no opposition or pushback, it will continue to expand.  While the current administration cannot be blamed for allowing all the expansion, it should be held accountable for the bureaucratic expansion of all executive agencies since the inauguration of President Obama.

Within the FBI, there were two articles that highlight the expanding role of government within the lives of the private citizen.  In the article, FBI Wants $41 Million Boost to Cyber Monitoring Capabilities, Associate Deputy Director Kevin L. Perkins made the statement to Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly, “Because of this gap between technology and the law, law enforcement is increasingly unable to access the information it needs to protect public safety and the evidence it need to bring criminals to justice…” This statement bothered me for several reasons. The first, with all the activities on surveillance on Americans that is already occurring through the NSA, the last part of the statement, the “need to bring criminals to justice” causes me to wonder what kind of criminal is the FBI seeking to catch through additional cyber-surveillance.  Already within the hands of the government at the disposal of the FBI are the nation’s cell phone records, text messages, and recently it was discovered that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media outlets are being monitored and contain back-door access to law enforcement. 

The second article, Obama’s FBI to Hire Firm to Rate ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ Stories about the Agency,Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy told Washington Times reporter  Jim McElhatton that the FBI is seeking private contractors to monitor news articles, blogs, commentary, and editorials about the agency and assign them a rating based on the content and how they depict the agency.  Both articles are chilling for free speech and press advocates for a reason; the FBI is seeking ways to not only monitor online content but seeking ways to identify any organization or individuals that could call into question the operation of the administration.  Couple these latest revelations about the FBI with the attempted newsroom monitoring that the FCC had planned and a very bleak future for First Amendment liberties begins to form. We have entered a period where the executive branch is attempting to place restrictions on the First Amendment. The freedom of the press and freedom of speech are not only being attacked, but is being justified under the guise of keeping the nation secure.

Adding to the assault of the First Amendment, the open hostility does not stop with the basic rights of freedom of speech and the press, but are extending into freedom of religion as well. In the article, IRS Agrees to Monitor Churches for Electioneering, Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was interviewed by Washington Post reporter Kimberly Winston. Within this article, Boston states his concern over the influence that churches have within the nation’s elections.  Within the article, he openly states that his goals are to make sure that churches are not allowed to participate in partisan political activities as a part of their religious activities.  Unfortunately, the targets for such monitoring will never be the religious organizations or churches that support Democratic Party candidates or Liberal issues, as has been demonstrated since 2009 with the numerous IRS scandals targeting conservative groups. Instead, the IRS plans to monitor churches that advocate or support for candidates based on certain hot button issues where churches are bound to take stands against: abortion and gay marriage/homosexuality.  These are soft, slow-moving targets because mainstream fundamentalist Christianity still teaches that both are sins. It is the intersection and conflict of faith and humanism on display for all to see.

These are dangerous times we are living in. Once again, as it has been tried many times in American history, the very nature of our nation is being questioned, history rewritten, and society transformed into something that does not resemble the intent of the founding fathers.  The party of Thomas Jefferson which feared a large central bureaucracy, hated the trappings of royalty, and hated the very idea of too much national government in the lives of ordinary citizens is now working hard to create a one-party state where any dissention and any criticisms will be illegal.  

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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One response to “A nation in distress: The ever eroding First Amendment

  1. We are getting closer and closer to George Orwell’s 1984. He might have had the year wrong, but I am convinced that we will one day be there.