First Amendment & the 21st century

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

One of the greatest characteristics about the United States is our freedom of speech. In this, an election year, many have seen fit to lambaste the opposing parties for slights real and imagined.

Not many other countries would allow such dissension. However, it would appear that some elected officials aren't as enamored with the ability to say what you want, any time and any place you choose.

Example A is state Delegate C. Emmett Burns Jr., a four-term representative from Baltimore County. Apparently, Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, was asked how he felt about the same-sex marriage initiative that will appear on our ballots in the fall. He said he supported it. There you go -- end of story.

However, the esteemed state representative took the time to write a letter to the Ravens' owner, Steve Bisciotti. The letter said (and I'm paraphrasing this) that the owner had to "get his player under control, and have him stop making statements like the one he made in support of the same-sex union issue."

Alarming.

Regardless of how you feel about the ballot initiative, a public official represents the government. The government should never advise a person to say or not say something. You all may have heard of a little something we call the First Amendment. In private situations, the First Amendment doesn't work; however, when the government gets involved, that's when the protection kicks in.

But this could be a part of a larger issue. With the advent of communication across numerous platforms -- Twitter, email, blogs, Facebook, etc. -- people can draft their thoughts, press a button and it's out there for a whole world.

In the olden days, people actually had to write things out longhand or type them on a typewriter, convince some third party to publish their thoughts and then send said thoughts out into the world.

This took time -- time to edit, time to cool off, time to figure out whether this was something that the writer could share with the world, and whether he or she should share it with everyone. This process gave the author and the ideas time to percolate, and time to play out possible responses to the idea.

These days, the genesis of ideas to publication can be seconds, hardly enough time to game-play how things can affect others or, more important, whether or not someone is trampling the rights of others under foot.

At first glance, this whole situation appears to be somewhat harmless. As private citizens (and private companies), we can express our support or opposition to other private individuals and entities. However, once one of the players becomes a government official, all bets are off and the First Amendment kicks in.

I fear we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the days ahead, where our thoughts and ideas can be disseminated in fractions of seconds, rather than minutes. Let's hope the First Amendment can withstand this change.

Chris Markham writes the Jurispundit column for The Frederick News-Post online.

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