The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident last December created a plethora of opinions concerning gun rights and the Second Amendment and all sorts of proposed legislation, such as lifting some of the exceptions to background checks. I don’t recall in my lifetime the volume of commentary, media stories, and coffee group discussions about this subject. The special interest groups were out in full force, especially the NRA, as they poured money into political campaign funds to ensure that their interpretation of the Second Amendment carried the day.
Since the most recent debates on the Second Amendment, there have been other constitutional questions to arise, and it has been especially interesting to observe how conservatives don’t seem to view other amendments with the same reverence. Several examples come to mind. One concerns the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause. When Ed Buckner, a strong and vocal advocate of religious freedom protested the placing of Bibles in state operated lodging facilities, he was condemned for bashing Christians. Yet the neutral role of the state concerning religious matters protects all beliefs, and one can only wonder if the same Christians who denounced Buckner would have a problem if the state placed a Koran in every state-run hotel room, even at no cost to the state. It’s also interesting to note how conservatives fall back on the understanding of the Founding Fathers, as though they spoke with one voice, yet they don’t recognize Thomas Jefferson as a Founding Father when it comes to his 1802 letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists in which he described the “Wall of Separation” between church and state.
Then there is Lois Lerner, the IRS official who was subpoenaed to testify by a congressional committee. The Attorney General had already announced that the Justice Department was conducting a criminal investigation into the IRS for targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny when Lerner had the audacity, on advice of counsel to take the Fifth Amendment and not testify. From the denunciations on reactionary talk radio you would have thought that Lerner was a communist for daring to exercise a right under the same Bill of Rights that the Second Amendment can be found. One congressman said that he would consider holding Lerner in contempt, never mind that he would not offer Lerner immunity for her testimony, which is standard procedure for compelling a witness to testify.
Locally was the recent indictment of state representative Tyrone Brooks. Brooks, another audacious American, dared to invoke his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. And even worse, Brooks had the temerity to retain former Governor Roy Barnes to defend him. It doesn’t get more un-American than that to some people’s warped vision of the Constitution. One anonymous blogger underneath the MDJ story described Barnes as a “lawyer scumbag who protects other scumbags.” Another anonymous blogger wrote that Barnes “was just as crooked as (Brooks) was.” Again, the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and requiring the state to meet its burden of proof means nothing to many who call themselves “constitutionalists.”
Surprisingly, or maybe not, a local group that proclaims itself as defender of the Constitution and the rights it affords, didn’t utter a single word in the three instances I cited. Perhaps the group’s political agenda doesn’t fit with unpopular people who exercise their rights. My educated guess is that those who denounce others for exercising their constitutional rights, often the same denouncers who think there is only one amendment, are usually the quickest to discover and claim their other rights when it involves them personally. And that’s the way it should be--despite the utter hypocrisy. All of our rights are sacred even if one’s cause just happens to be unpopular, and all those rights should be defended and protected.