First Amendment

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2013 NY Constitutional Admendments
First Amendment
Role of Government
Role of Law
Second Amendment

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I believe that democracy functions best when there is a wide variety of ideas, and that people are allowed to peacefully protest to communicate their views. Protest is an important part of our democracy, it allows people to communicate their message, and also provides a method of publicly venting frustration over dysfunction in government. In democracy, there are always winners and losers, and not everybody can get their way. But they can voice their opinions.

I dislike anybody who condemns either those who protesting for or against the removal of the General Robert Lee monument. Certainly there are arguments on both side of the monument debate. He’s a historical figure, a very successful general, who ended up fighting on the losing side of the war. Industrialization and the big cities of the north won. Slavery and the other agrarian traditions of the south lost. But he was joined by millions of other Americans that agreed with him, and in the south, succession was the widely supported choice. On the other hand, I can understand why many African Americans feel a monument to General Robert Lee is deeply offensive, and they would like it removed from their city. Many African Americans view the monument as a tacit endorsement of slavery, segregation, and other racist and outdated ideas. They are on the winning side of the battle; they got the local government to agree to remove it.

I’m not one to take stand on the issue, except to defend the right to protest. I get why the pro-statue and anti-statue activists are marching. I think it’s good that their voices are being heard, and the debate is being furthered. Many historical statues in our country are old and represented dated values, and we should reconsider their placement on our public grounds. Even long revered public figures have their flaws – indeed the Phillip Sheridan statue in Albany isn’t without it’s criticism. He burned whole villages, turned his forces against civilians and murdered whole tribes of Native Americans. We need more review of outdated statues in public places, with replacement with more contemporary figures that are closer to today’s values. Statues and the outdated values they represent shouldn’t last forever. I am certainly not against one participating in politics if they so choose. It’s important the public’s voice is heard in its governance. Certainly, the pro-statue position is not a popular one, especially in the north, when for so many generations people have been taught that the actions of the south were evil.

Protests shouldn’t be allowed to spill into violence. That’s why we have laws and police that enforce the laws that prohibit violence and punish those who engage in violence. But like it or not, protests often bring together angry minds, and sometimes violence occurs at protests. Police can’t break up a lawful assembly, and indeed they can only watch and discourage violence. Protesters do need to take a deep breath, follow the laws that are currently in effect, and peacefully protest. Every city has sidewalks, parks, greens, and other public spaces where like minded people can get together an assemble. When you take a stand on an issue, there is likely to be somebody on the opposition.

While protests go on, life in an city grinds on. Protesters should refrain from unlawful crossings and blocking of streets, and should they interfere with either pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic, they must either be asked to move or be prosecuted for disorderly conduct or other offenses. Protesters can not be allowed to stop traffic, especially when emergency vehicles need to get through. Protesters should not be allowed to block access to businesses, shops, medical facilities, or people’s homes. But they certainly can hold up signs, hand out literature, and inform people of consequences of the businesses they are choosing to engage in. I have no problem protesters with yelling at people who choose to shop at Walmart on Black Friday, military leaders, war veterans returning from Vietnam or those going to an abortion clinic. People have a right to get their message out, as questionable as it may be. 

Law enforcement has an important role to protect the right of peaceful protest, and to keep the peace. Some people, angry about the loud voices of the opposition may choose to violently attack their opposition. This is never acceptable. It’s the job of police to monitor protesters, to ensure they have an opportunity to get their voices heard while retaining all their protections of safety and well-being as provided under the law, and that ensure protesters have the opportunity to get their message out in a lawful way that doesn’t impact ordinary commerce of a city, beyond the rubbernecking of passing drivers and pedestrians.

Supreme Court sides with The Slants, rules ban on offensive names is unconstitutional

"The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a federal trademark law banning offensive names is unconstitutional, siding with a rock band whose name had been deemed racially disparaging by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."

"In an 8-0 ruling, the court determined the law’s so-called “disparagement clause” violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment."

"The case centered on Oregon-based, Asian-American band The Slants, which was denied a trademark because its name was considered offensive. The band countered that the 70-year-old law at issue violates free-speech rights -- and Justice Samuel Alito, in the court’s opinion, agreed."

“The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates. If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social ‘volatility,’ free speech would be endangered,” he wrote."

State legislators take steps to criminalize protests

I am bothered by protesters who engage in criminal acts to get their message across -- and jeopardize the public safety. There are plenty of public sidewalks and common areas where people can protest during ordinary business hours and during the daytime without trashing the land, causing car crashes, burning and looting buildings.

I have no problem with ordinary rallies and protests. And if people want to camp in the back country or a developed campground, that's fine too -- they just need to follow the rules, get the necessary permits, and so forth. Just because you are protesting, doesn't mean your exempt from all the other ordinary rules.

It’s obvious that tougher federal criminal penalities are needed against those who would intentionally shut down an interstate highway, railroad, or airport. The fact is illegal blockades of high-speed roads, railroads, and airports are dangerous both to motorists and blockaders, not to mention first responders and those who drive truck for a living.

Nobody doesn’t think people shouldn’t be allowed to protest. There are many public places that are available for protests, without putting human life at risk. Those places may not be as dramatic or get the news coverage sought out by protesters, but they protect the public safety.

I’m all for people getting out and expressing their views. Like most people, I have a problem with some of our president’s choices. But don’t cause innocent moms and dads who are just trying to get home to their children to be held up unnecessarily, don’t cause crashes, don’t block truckers just trying to feed their families, and don’t keep firefighters from getting to fires.

It’s just common decency.

Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporations

Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporations

The Supreme Court simply overturned a Health and Human Services regulation on what is a "preventive care" based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Congress can fix this by simply making clear in the law what "preventive care" are required under Affordable Care Act, as the RFRA only applies to regulations of the government and not new laws. Laws can not legally bind the future actions of congress.

Nothing in decision prevents congress from requiring employers to provide contraception. Congress still has that power, as only congress can modify existing laws like RFRA.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Aggregate Limits on Federal Campaign Contributions

Supreme Court Strikes Down Aggregate Limits on Federal Campaign Contributions

A lot of people are concerned about the role of money in politics. I am not one of them.

The reality is people are under-informed about politics. It's really hard to get information on the issues of day. Many people don't even know what day to get out to vote, or who the candidates are. The more voter contact and information out there -- the better.

To ensure a full discussion of issues, we should offer public matching contributions to those who want to participate in the system, along with having publicly funded television and radio stations, and good websites on government affairs. I think that would offset people's concerns about the debate being one-sided.