Last week our nation witnessed a very historic and powerful event, i.e., the very first public reading of the United States Constitution by Congress. The reading of the Constitution should not be an event we shy away from or ignore. More importantly, this should not be the last time it is read aloud. This event should give Americans the incentive to brush up on this important document, understand, and appreciate the important rights it guarantees us as American citizens.
Our Constitution is the supreme law of the land and we must do everything in our power to uphold and protect it. But my question is this: How is it possible for the citizenry to uphold and protect a document that many or most Americans have never read?
The foundations of our country and communities are in a crisis when our Constitution is not acknowledged. Right now, as a country, we are faced with difficult economic times, communities are entangled with crime, and courts are faced with increasingly more difficult and complex cases. I've often heard it said that hard cases make bad law. However, when hard cases are presented we as citizens have a duty to rise up, speak up and stand with courage to protect the integrity of our Constitution. All that is required for the undermining of our Constitution is for those of us who know our rights to keep silent when others are screaming for the passage of laws that will take away our rights.
Currently the country is quietly awaiting a decision in the case of Snyder vs. Phelps. This is a gut wrenching case in which the Westboro Baptist Church members showed up in protest of military funerals holding signs and banners that many felt displayed offensive, insensitive and extremely inappropriate messages. No doubt this was an appalling display of First Amendment rights. However, doesn't the Constitution protect them and their free speech? YES it does, and this is one of the most important factors the court must consider when handing down a decision in this case. The painful challenge by the victim's family, challenging the rights of the protestors to protest, make this a case with the potential to shake the very foundation of our constitutional right to freedom of speech.
There are four primary sources of law in this country and they are the Constitution, case law, legislative law and administrative law. The supreme law of the land is our Constitution. Whenever a case reaches the Supreme Court, and it decides to hear the case, the door is open for the court to say more clearly what the Constitution says regarding the point of the law at issue in that particular case. These situations open us up and leave us most vulnerable to opinion and preferences of jurists who disagree with the Constitution.
In a sensitive case such as Snyder vs. Phelps, it is easy to sympathize with the deceased soldiers family and to condemn the Westboro Baptist church for their inappropriate actions. However, regardless of how distasteful his or her choice of words may be, the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to freedom of speech.
When the right to free speech is denied, limited or restricted to any degree, we as American citizens have a duty and responsibility to rise up and cry out to our lawmakers and judges in an effort to protect and preserve our constitutional rights. Regardless of our personal beliefs in a particular situation, our Constitution should be protected at all cost! If we do not stand up for what the Constitution protects, who knows what may be forced upon us or taken from us by those who believe they know what is best for us the American people.
Frederick Jones is an attorney and business law lecturer at the Coles College of Business Kennesaw State University.