O.K., I’ll admit it; sometimes I take the rights and privileges granted to me under the United States Constitution squarely for granted. It’s not something I am proud to admit, but hey, life happens, people are busy, and freedoms are easily assumed when you’re living with them.
Recently, activities in the hallowed halls of Congress have served as a wake-up call to one of the freedoms that I along with most other Americans truly prize: the right to free speech.You surely remember from your high school U.S. Government days the First Amendment to the Constitution that reads:
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.
If you need a “brusher-upper” and a quick review of applicable case law click here to be whisked away to FindLaw.com (courtesy one of those great freedoms of speech, creativity, and expression the Worldwide Web, i.e. the Internet). For me, this amendment aims to protect the two things that affect about all that I do vocationally by guaranteeing freedom to practice religion and freedom of speech and assembly. As a pastor and writer, threats to this amendment really hit home.
One of these threats is legislation currently before Congress. SOPA — H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act and its companion bill in the Senate —PIPA, S. 968, the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act. I would like to think that the sponsors of these bills had good intentions, but today one can never be too sure what special interests are at play.
The good news is that a powerful public lobby against the bill is happening right now. Several websites search engines and web players are waging a protest that ranges from information encouraging individuals to contact their elected leaders to site blackouts (Wikipedia, Mozilla, Reddit, and WordPress, for example). A good summary about the legislation and the protest can be found at CBSNews. Check out Alexandra Petri’s column in The Washington Post, too.
I am thankful for the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, and I value the information available via the Internet. Yes, there are people who abuse these freedoms and who profit from such abuse, but I do not believe that it is the Federal Government’s role to regulate such abuse to the gross extent that SOPA and PIPA would attempt.
If you value your First Amendment rights and your free access to online content and information, then by all means educate yourself about this issue and take action. If you don’t, who will? If we all count on somebody else to speak up for us, we may just find ourselves silenced and without the rights we so dearly treasure and expect.
Today, make yourself happy and make others happy by doing what you can about SOPA and PIPA: spread the word, contact your elected leaders, and (to borrow from Dylan Thomas) “rage, rage against the dying of the light/do not go gently into that good night.” I know, Thomas was talking about death and old age, but isn’t it equally apt to apply his words to a more insidious death–the slow creep of denial of rights and freedoms?
Thanks for reading; I’ll step off my SOPA box now and get back to thanks-living!