Opinion

You Aren’t Qualified to Hold Public Office If You Don’t Know What the First Amendment Means

“They have a right to protest” is the new Leftist narrative. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee “took a knee for the First Amendment.” Who’s denying that people have a right to protest? Who’s against Free Speech? (Actually, liberals are, but that’s a different story for another time.) Everyone has a right to protest, but not on someone else’s dime or time. If I hire someone and that person protests about some pet social or political concern at a seminar our company is sponsoring, I have every right to fire that person. He or she can protest on their own time and dime but not on mine.

If a person doesn’t understand this basic constitutional principle, he or she is not qualified to hold public office.

If the NFL has a policy about protesting on the field (and I believe it does), and a player violates that policy, it’s not a First Amendment issue.

The First Amendment was added to the Constitution to protect the states and the people (Ninth and Tenth Amendments) from the government. It was designed to stop the government from criminalizing religion, speech, press, and assembly:

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.

That first word is important: “Congress…” The NFL is not Congress. If the NFL and NBA want to allow athletes to protest during a game, they have a right to offer them that right, and the fans who don’t want to watch a protest have a right to boo them, turn their backs on them, not to attend the games, or refuse to watch them on television. Advertisers also have a right not to advertise.

What if you don’t like unpopular speech, like the planned marches of Neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977? As much as you and I hate what these intimidating thugs were trying to do, they had a right to do it. And those who opposed their right had a right to protest their right. And they did after seeking a legal remedy was rebuffed. “In the summer of 1978, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision, some Holocaust survivors set up a museum on the Main Street of Skokie to commemorate those who had died in the concentration camps.”

Let me offer an example of how to process all this debate. Last night, my wife and I went to see a protection of The King and I at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I would have been ticked off if the actors had decided to make some political statement — Left or Right — before, during, or after the show. Theatergoers paid to see a particular show. They didn’t pay to hear someone spout off about politics.

Before the production started, a representative from Fifth/Third Bank came out. Fifth/Third Bank sponsors the Encore series at the Fox. He welcomed us and told us about some of the upcoming productions. One was Hamilton. Hamilton is political, and if people want to spend their time and money watching it, they are free to do so. There would not be any First Amendment protection for a conservative actor who decided to protest the political plotline while he was performing. He most likely would be fired, and rightly so.

If you want to protest something, write a play like The King and I, based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which is in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (modern-day Thailand) in the early 1860s.” It’s very political. It’s about a king who is a tyrant. He has numerous wives and dozens of children. He believes in and supports slavery. H does not want to be thought of as a “barbarian,” but in many respects, he is. A new “wife” is given to him as a “gift” from the king of Burma. Tuptim is not a “gift”; she’s a slave who is in love with a young man (Lun Tha) she cannot marry. Anna gives her a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an American novel about slavery. The book is a protest against slavery. It had a huge impact on the anti-slavery movement. If the government had banned the book, that would have been a violation of the First Amendment.

Politics is built into the play. The King and I is a statement about tyrants and slavery (among other things) and how to bring about change. Theatergoers were paying for a message that was the play. They weren’t paying for, and the production company was not paying for, protests about this or that.

A delegation from Great Britain arrives in Siam. The goal of Anna and the king is to show that he is not a “barbarian.” The king’s wives are dressed in western fashions and a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin is put on as part of the entertainment:

As final preparations for the play are made, Tuptim steals a moment to meet with Lun Tha. He tells her he has an escape plan, and she should be ready to leave after the performance (“I Have Dreamed”). Anna encounters them, and they confide in her (“Hello, Young Lovers”, reprise). The play (“Small House of Uncle Thomas,” narrated ballet) is presented in a Siamese ballet-inspired dance. Tuptim is the narrator, and she tells her audience of the evil King Simon of Legree and his pursuit of the runaway slave Eliza. Eliza is saved by Buddha, who miraculously freezes a river and conceals her in snow. Buddha then causes the river to melt, drowning King Simon and his hunting party. The anti-slavery message is blunt.

This “play within the play” was one of the best parts of The King and I. It was beautifully done.

There are many ways to protest, “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” to make your voice heard, to take a knee for this or that, to stand up for a pet cause. You can write a play, write a book, send a letter to the editor, buy commercial time, donate to an organization that supports your interests, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.” Just do it on your own dime and time. And I have every right to protest your protest, turn you off, not buy your product, write an article, write a book, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

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