Beltway Confidential

Jesse Jackson seems to disagree with Martin Luther King Jr. on First Amendment

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Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Analysis,First Amendment,Martin Luther King,Duck Dynasty

Jesse Jackson believes "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson's statement that he thinks homosexuality is a sin is an opinion that is not protected by law, comparing him unfavorably with Jim Crow-era racists.

"At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law,” he said in a statement quoted by the Chicago Tribune. “Robertson's statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was ‘white privilege.' "

People are allowed to say all sorts of terrible things in this country, speech protected by the same constitutional provision that allows them to say all sorts of wonderful things. The First Amendment is so capacious in the coverage it affords American speech that even people who have been denied full participation in American political and cultural life have, in the history of the United States, been permitted to say things that criticized the laws protecting such discrimination.

"If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. "Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right."

Now, when Dr. King made those remarks, a lot of people in the country thought he was protesting for the wrong thing; Robertson doubtless believes gay rights activists are protesting for the wrong thing, just as Jackson believes Robertson is on "the wrong side of history," as the saying goes.

But the First Amendment doesn't allow someone else to make that decision for another American. Instead, it fosters a conversation. In other words, the same thing that allows Phil Robertson say homosexuality is a sin allows Jesse Jackson to accuse him of "white privilege."

"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," The First Amendment declares.

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