What a country

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

We live in the greatest country in the world, and Im not just saying that in a blind furor of patriotism. Sure, we have problems, lots of them. But we can discuss these matters amongst ourselves without fear that a party official is in the group and then will go running back to his or her superiors with the damaging evidence of our supposed treason. Then, we will be made the subject of a show trial, and quite likely either executed on the spot, or sent to a prison camp for the rest of our (hopefully) short lives.

As a bit of an aside, Ive been reading a lot about North Korea these days (specifically, Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick and Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin), and it is just astounding at what the government does over there. If you are found guilty of any innumerable crimes against the state (and thats kind of tough because there are so many, and what constitutes a crime changes on a day-to-day basis), not only are you either executed or sentenced to life in a prison camp, your entire immediate family gets punished as well. If you have a huge extended family, well, they will either get sent to chop rocks, or their careers and lives will be destroyed.


What makes our situation all the more pertinent is the fact that a minister in Florida, I believe, wanted to sponsor a Burn the Koran day. Personally, I think that type of celebration is a bit outside of good taste. As a Catholic, I would hate to have a Burn the Bible day. But, as an attorney, the First Amendment of the Constitution would allow this questionable act on the grounds of freedom of speech.

Now, Im no Constitutional scholar. In law school, I really looked forward to my Constitutional Law class, until I found out (in week 12 of the 15 week class) that we were never going to get to any free speech cases. Rather, we spent almost all of the class time reviewing sexy subjects such as the interstate commerce clause and the dormant commerce clause. If you ever want to shut up an attorney, ask them about those two subjects. They will probably be speechless. Or, if you really need to get some sleep, as for an explanation of the ICC or DCC. You will be sawing logs within minutes.

As an attorney, what I do know, though, is that the First Amendment allows us, as private citizens, to say and do whatever we want, as long as other state and federal rules arent violated (no yelling fire in a crowded theater, no beating up people we dont like and no public nudity, please). In the instance of the right reverend, the only thing assailed is good taste, and there are obviously no state and federal laws about that. Such a law may violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, but thats a discussion for another day.

While I was in college during the first gulf war, I really began to admire this country for the myriad of viewpoints its citizenry could possess. I was at the library one day (dont laugh, Dad), and there were pro-war demonstrators and anti-war protestors. Both had their rallies, listened to what the other party had to say, agreed to disagree, and the events went on with virtually no violence. How many other countries could say that? Of course, there may be a flashpoint between the two mobs, but no one was arrested and taken away in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again.

Recently, one of my heroes, Justice Scalia (and hes a hero not so much for his ideology, although I agree with a great deal of what he says, but also, after reading con law cases that go on for dozens and dozens of pages without really saying anything, and then you get to a Scalia one, which is always a good read, whether you agree or not) said basically the same thing about the minister. In a speech, he stated that the first amendment allows for the actions contemplated, but it doesnt mean they guy isnt an idiot (Scalia: First Amendment Protects Idiot Pastor Who Threatened to Burn the Koran, ABA Journal, September 20, 2010). Which is very true.

But see, Justice Scalia can call this guy an idiot, and hes not going to be arrested. What a country. One of the most powerful people in the land can call someone an idiot, and no one is going to die or be killed or imprisoned for the rest of their lives.

Chris Markham writes a weekly column for fredericknewspost.com.

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