The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads (in part):
Congress shall make no law respecting . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Let’s begin by answering the argument some liberal always makes: “You’ve not complaining about Congressional actions. These are all state or municipal ordinances.”
I’ve dealt with that argument dozens of times. Let’s do it again.
More than 125 Supreme Court decisions have validated the legal principal that state or municipal ordinances may not deprive us of rights that the Constitution guarantees us. Those decisions began with Weston v. City Council of Charleston in 1829.The most recent (that I could find a record of, anyway) was Reed v. Town of Gilbert in 2015.
So if we have the Constitutional right “. . . peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” we have that right anywhere, any time we’re standing on US soil.
Now—let’s look at what the First Amendment doesn’t say.
- It doesn’t say, “. . . except in times of national emergency.”
- It doesn’t say, “. . .as long as they’re not standing in groups of more than ten people.”
- It doesn’t say, “. . . as long as they maintain a minimum distance of at least six feet between them.”
- It doesn’t say, “. . . unless there’s a pandemic.”
- It doesn’t say, “. . . unless there are no more than 25 percent of the people the local fire marshal allows in the building.”
Allow me to summarize what I’ve said here:
The Constitution of the United States of America, one of our Founding documents, guarantees that We the People have the right to peaceably assemble. We have the right to protest the actions of our government. We have the right to petition our government—which is made up of our democratically-elected representatives, not royalty or military dictators—to change those actions. Those rights were granted to us by God, as free men and women, and no government or government agent has the power to abridge them, suspend them, or take them away.
I hope my readers understand how difficult it is for me to write this Commentary. I’ve always been a respecter of authority. Parents, teachers, police, civic officials—if they had the authority to make the rules, I followed the rules and encouraged others to follow them. I didn’t always agree with the rules, but I recognized that without laws, without rules, and without conformance to those laws and rules, we would have anarchy.
In the past two months, we’ve seen an unprecedented situation arise. The COVID-19 virus has swept thru our nation, stressing our medical system to its limits, killing many of our fellow citizens, causing shortages of food and other supplies. On March 13 of this year, President Trump declared the virus to be a national emergency.
In the wake of that declaration, government officials all over the nation—state governors, county executives, city mayors, and in a few cases even sheriffs, started issuing rules that were clearly violations of the First Amendment.
They dictated that “non-essential businesses” had to shut down and send their employees home—and they decided what businesses were non-essential.
They also ruled that the essential businesses had to modify the way they did business. They weren’t allowed to sell certain products that they normally sold. For example, Walmart could sell groceries and cleaning supplies, but they weren’t allowed to sell clothes, furniture, or appliances.
These wanna-be dictators mandated that citizens couldn’t gather in groups of more than ten people, and even then they had to stay at least six feet from each other. Many cities ruled that anyone outside their residence had to wear a surgical mask.
Some cities ordered that even the essential businesses, like grocery stores, could only allow 25 percent of the maximum occupancy allowed by the local fire marshal. If the fire marshal said a store could only hold 100 people, the store could only allow 25 people at a time in to shop.
As the virus continued to spread, some cities put their citizens on “lockdown.” It became illegal for people to leave their houses for any reason except emergencies—and the police decided what constituted an emergency.
Residents of those cities were forbidden to “peaceably assemble.”
As I write this in May, some thirty million Americans are sitting at home, not receiving a paycheck. Technically, an estimated 88 percent of them are not really unemployed. They still have jobs that they will eventually be called back to. But the number of people currently not receiving a paycheck, which we generically refer to as the “jobless rate” stands at fourteen percent of the working population—the highest it’s been since the Great Depression of the Nineteen Thirties.
Now we’re coming out the other side of this pandemic. We’re beginning to talk about how to restart the economy and allow people to return to their jobs. But these petty dictators don’t want to give up what they see as their power over the general population.
A woman in Dallas was recently given a $7,000 fine and sentenced to spend seven days in jail because she opened her business without the state’s permission, then refused to apologize to the judge who heard her case.
Incidentally, this took place while Dallas was releasing more than a thousand prisoners from their jails so they wouldn’t be exposed to the COVID-19 virus.
A bar owner in Odessa was jailed (along with seven of his patrons) because he opened his business without state permission.
The police commissioner of New York City recently confirmed that anyone opening their business before the NYC mayor authorizes it will face cancellation of their business license and a $10,000 fine.
But in case you’re wondering—these rules don’t apply to the dictators themselves. The mayor of Chicago ordered the beauty salons in her city closed—then ordered the shop where she was a regular customer to open up and give her some service.
The mayor of New York City, after ordering NYC’s parks to be closed, had his chauffer drive him to a park where he took a “relaxing” walk.
The mayor of Beaumont, right down I-10 from Houston, ordered the beauty and nail salons in Beaumont to close, then ordered her favorite nail salon to open up and give her a manicure.
The governor of Maryland classified golf courses as “non-essential” and ordered them closed. Then ex-President Barak Obama ordered his Secret Service detail to take him to his favorite golf course in Maryland, where he played a round of golf on the empty course.
As they’ve done since the morning of November 9, 2016, when they were faced with the fact that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States, the Democrats are trying to politicize the issue of restarting the economy. They know that the 2020 election is going to hinge on only one issue—the economy.
Those of you who are old enough to remember the Presidential election of 1980 will recall that the one burning question during the Reagan-Carter campaign was, “Are you better off today than you were in 1976?”
In 1980 the answer was a resounding “No!” Under President Jimmy Carter, between 1976 and 1980:
- The annual inflation rate went to more than twenty percent.
- Mortgage interest was averaging about fifteen percent per year.
- Carter’s foreign policy blunders had prompted Saudi Arabia to refuse to sell us oil for the second time in a decade, and we were sitting in line for two hours awaiting our turn to buy a tank of gasoline.
- Also because of Carter’s foreign policy blunders, radical Islamic fundamentalists were holding 52 US citizens prisoner in the US embassy in Tehran.
- The jobless rate was almost eight percent.
This year, I predict the campaign will center around the same question. “Are you better off today than you were in 2016?” The answer, prior to the pandemic shutdown, was a resounding “Yes!”
- Seven million more people were working, wages were going up, and the jobless rate was the lowest since the end of World War Two.
- President Trump was bringing millions of jobs back to the US, jobs the last eight Presidents had allowed to go overseas.
- The jobless rate for African-Americans was the lowest since WW2.
- The jobless rate for Latinos was the lowest since WW2.
- The jobless rate for young people (16 to 24 years old) was the lowest since WW2.
The Democrats realized that their only hope of beating President Trump in November was to keep the economy shut down. I’ve heard and read talk from the Democrat leadership about waiting until August, maybe even September, before they allow businesses to start reopening.
They want to keep the economy shut down until ninety million or a hundred million people are furloughed and trying to live on unemployment checks. They want the jobless rate to hit fifty percent or higher. They want the economy to collapse until people are going bankrupt, losing their homes, starving, having to sleep in homeless shelters and eat in soup kitchens.
Think about that, folks. The liberal Democrats are so focused on regaining power and putting the nation back on the road to being a socialist aristocracy—with themselves as the aristocratic rulers—that they’re willing to destroy our capitalist economy, bankrupt half the population, and reduce us to Third World status. If the best they can manage is to rule over a Third World country, they’ll take it.
The body of our Constitution establishes the government and puts limits on the three branches relative to one another. That’s what we call the “checks and balances.”
The first ten Amendments, which we call the “Bill of Rights,” put limits on the federal government with regard to individuals. Please see my Commentary No. 28, dated November 2017, for a more extensive discussion of the Bill of Rights.
The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, served to limit the rights of states and local municipalities with regard to individuals. The Supreme Court, and various lower courts, have validated that the liberties granted by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment are “fundamental liberties,” that is, liberties granted by God, not by men. The Founders held the view that fundamental liberties are integral to each person, and therefore may not be limited or taken away by men.
In the Nineteenth Century, the anti-slavery crusader Lysander Spooner explained it thusly: “A man’s natural rights are his own, against the whole world; and any infringement of them is equally a crime, whether committed by one man, or by millions; whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber, … or by millions, calling themselves a government.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that government derives all its powers from the consent of the governed. From this, it follows that if governments interfere with our personal choices — and we have not consented to their power to interfere — the interference is invalid, unlawful and, because our personal choices are essentially protected from governmental interference by the Bill of Rights, unconstitutional.
During the “civil rights” movement of the Nineteen Sixties and ‘Seventies, demonstrators often engaged in what they called “civil disobedience.” They broke laws, but they weren’t robbing banks and stealing cars. They broke laws they sincerely believed were unjust and unconstitutional.
They sat at lunch counters that were supposed to be reserved for white people. They used public restrooms and public drinking fountains that were marked “Whites Only.”
They sat near the front of the public transit busses, in seats that were supposedly for white people only. When a white person ordered them to move, they refused. When the police arrested them and took them to jail, they went peacefully, without resistance.
Today, half a century later, we’re facing a similar situation. Various state and municipal agencies have forbidden us to peaceably assemble, an unquestionable violation of our First Amendment rights. Those same agencies have taken upon themselves the authority to decide what businesses can stay open, and under what conditions. They’ve decided what businesses must shut down, depriving their employees of their livelihood and the rest of us of their goods and services.
Now, some of them—mainly the states, counties, and cities controlled by liberal Democrats—are threatening to keep their areas shut down long enough to hopefully defeat President Trump in November, even if it wrecks their local economy and bankrupts many of their constituents.
As many of you know, I’m an avid student of history. What worries me the most about these events is that this pattern isn’t unique. It can be seen over and over in history. Russia in 1917. Germany in 1933. China in 1948. Poland in 1956. Vietnam in 1972. Cambodia in 1975. Many others.
In each case, the government control over the society was relatively benign in the beginning. It could even be argued that it served the public good. But in each succeeding emergency—real or manufactured—the government control was a little tighter and lasted a little longer.
Finally, the government control was absolute—and permanent.
This pandemic has shown us that some of our government officials—governors, county executives, mayors, and even sheriffs—want to control We the People. They think they’re smarter than us and therefore must tell us what to do—“for our own good.”
We’re already seeing a few cases of civil disobedience. Business owners opening their businesses in defiance of orders to stay shut down. People patronizing those businesses, even at the risk of being arrested.
Each of us must make our own decision what we’re going to do. I don’t have a business to open, but I intend to patronize every business I hear about that opens in defiance of government orders.