President Jimmy Carter’s new book, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis renews my faith that the United States can turn the ship of state around before it runs aground on the shoals of fascism. His essay in the LA Times yesterday sums up much of what I have been trying to say since I started blogging.
Mr. Carter speaks clearly and unsentimentally about the detour our great country has taken from the course charted for it over 200 years ago. His words have the unmistakable ring of truth and the warrant of Carter’s personal integrity to back them up.
Carter admonishes us about the erosion of our first amendment rights. That first amendment is the mother of all civil rights. It begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” Churches have turned political, and an alarming number of politicians are exhibiting an unsavory tendency to run on the platform of their personal religious beliefs. In many countries, clergy may not hold parliamentary office. Not so in the United States, but it may be time to consider creating such a law.
“. . .or abridging the freedom of speech. . .” While no one has yet attempted the direct public abrogation of free speech, Valerie Plame is certainly an example of the wages of unapologetic refusal to toe the party line. Intimidating against the use of free speech critical of the government is no different in practical terms from making it illegal. The right was not legislated out, but the freedom was still abridged.
” . . .or of the press. . .” Judith Miller recently ended a 2-month jail stay for refusing to name her journalistic sources. While protection of journalistic sources is not a constitutional right, without the ability to assure the anonymity of a source, journalists face the possibility of having access to the party line only. Big Brother hasn’t tried to control the press overtly, but nary a journalist in this country missed the handwriting on the wall over Valerie Plame.
“. . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. . .” this right is also an endangered species. The government did not attack it directly; preferring simply to fail to protect it from private-sector poachers. Wal-Mart has usurped their employees’ right to associate with others who think building a business empire by cheating employees is wrong. The fastest way to get fired from Wal-Mart is to repeat the magic words aloud: “Labor Union.”
“. . . and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The current trend known as tort reform is the final aspect of the abolishment of the first amendment. When persons are limited in their ability to petition the government for relief of wrongs, which is the point of award caps, and other tort reform devices, the government is no longer obligated to protect the weak against the strong. Here, certain power brokers are trying to get Americans to support laws that violate their rights with alarmist chatter about frivolous lawsuits. Certain interests think that the right of American citizens to ask the government to protect them from well-funded commercial enterprises is frivolous. The first thing people seem to think of when tort reform comes up is the woman who sued McDonalds because she got burnt with hot coffee. The last thing they seem to think of, because this part is kept out of the discussion by the tort-reform champions, is that the woman who filed the lawsuit was injured so badly she needed skin grafts. It only sounds frivolous before the facts come out. Tort reform is the final nail in the first amendment’s coffin.
Americans are the only ones who can save the first amendment. It is not the whole of American civil liberties, but without it, maintaining the rest will be difficult, if not impossible. It is good that Mr. Carter has taken the time to warn of the impending crisis. I hope everyone who reads this can find a copy of his book and the time to read it.