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Posted on Fri. Feb. 01, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

EDITORIAL

Playing fast and loose with the First Amendment

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Even conservatives can show disdain for the Constitution.

Progressive scholars and politicians have a deserved reputation for not respecting the Constitution. At best, they consider constitutional requirements something to get around when it suits them. At the extreme, they have complete disdain for the founding document. “Let’s give up on the Constitution,” Georgetown University law professor Louis Michael Seidman said on the CBS “Sunday Morning” show this week, because we should not allow ourselves to be ruled by “people who died over two centuries ago.”

Unfortunately, evidence for that disrespect can also be found among conservative lawmakers here in Indiana. Proposed legislation in two cases – one an attempt to keep sex offenders off social media, the other an effort to limit the number of specialty license plates – have to play fast and loose with the First Amendment.

The social media ban is a recasting of an earlier bill found unconstitutional by an appeals court because the ban was so broad it amounted to a prohibition of “substantial protected speech” – even someone using a site for a job search would be breaking the law. Sponsors of the new measure say they’ve have “narrowed” the scope of the legislation, but as critics point out, it still focuses on which sex offenders are covered rather than how much speech is restricted. Did these legislators actually understand the nature of the court’s objections?

The specialty-plates proposal is being considered not because there are so many of them now that their fundraising ability is questionable, although that is certainly the case. It came up mostly because of who was starting to use them. It’s not controversial to have plates generating fees for the environment or our favorite state university, but it’s something else again if a gay youth group wants its own plate. But objecting to some plates but not others amounts to content censorship, and that is not very First Amendment-friendly.

It’s easy to regard these flexible interpretations as trifling because they involve small minority groups and the one case even criminals. But “equal rights” isn’t an empty phrase – what we allow to be done to the smallest group can be applied to all of us.

The Constitution is revered because it is what keeps us free. It spells out the rights we have – as human beings, not as the subject of any rulers – that government must respect. Only by insisting on those rights can we limit the size and scope of government. People such as Seidman would replace that limit with a government that can do whatever it wants to. Please, conservatives, don’t give him any help.


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