Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The REST of the First Amendment

The First Amendment covers several topics, although I have focused only on the Religion Clauses. Here is the entire Amendment:

“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 peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

If you have followed the news lately, you may have heard that some of the largest news outlets are in major financial trouble. You may have also heard speculation about a government bailout for these companies. How did the discussion even get that far? What if a church or denomination were in financial trouble, and what if the government were thinking about a bailout for them? Wouldn't the phrase "separation of church and state" come up immediately? (That phrase is too often used to "summarize" the Religion Clauses.) Why, then, do we not hear immediate and strong objections to the very mention of government aid to news outlets?

The first few words of the Amendment, "Congress shall make no law..." applies to all the clauses that follow. So whatever restriction there is on Congress about religion would apply to the freedom of the press as well. How about "separation of media and state" or some similar phrase?

Both religious organizations and media organizations would want to be careful to avoid the government obtaining a measure of control. There is already some entanglement because of tax policies, which applies in different ways, but perhaps no less strongly, to the press as to religion.

Just food for thought.


LexAequitas said...

I think that's a great argument to oppose a bailout of media agencies.

I would be baffled why you would think a "separation of media and state" might be a bad idea as a principle.

History Matters said...

My goal was to create a comparison between the way the religion clause are treated vs. the way the press clause is treated. The Supreme Court has used separation of church and state to block prayers at graduation, for example. In some cases, courts have said that certain public prayers are allowed and others are not, depending on the wording. What would be the results if we used similar logic to allow the SCOTUS to control what newspapers print? Or what bloggers say?

I'm for separation of media and state in the same way I'm for separation of church and state. And I'm against either, depending on how silly the application gets. Certainly the Founders wanted to allow free expression of opinion, in the press or in the public square. But did that mean they wanted the press to stay away from the government? Hardly, but in areas of religion that type of logic seems to apply today.

Did you know that Michigan is considering a law to license journalists? So certain writers would probably have "rights" that others would not. How does that fit with the "rest" of the First Amendment? This bill requires writing samples to be submitted and requires the journalist to be of "good moral character." Do we want lawmakers judging these things?

LexAequitas said...

Well, I would point out that there is something of a difference: there is no Establishment clause for the press. It's "Congress shall make no law abridging ... the freedom of press".

So, there is a grounds to make a distinction.

As far as Michigan licensing reporters, I suspect it could be legally challenged.