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What happens when you don’t pay attention in civics class

Oregonlive.com has an interesting take on the recent SCOTUS decision to overturn most of the McCain-Feingold act, which is the act that sought to outlaw free speech in politics.  One effect of the SCOTUS decision is to allow corporations to get back in the game of donating money to politicians… like they haven’t been doing that through various means anyhow.

Guest writers Nancy Price and David Delk say that the solution to this problem is to “strip” corporations of their “personhood” so that free speech laws won’t apply to them.  This is what happens when you don’t pay attention in civics class.  The first amendment says nothing about granting any particular rights to persons, corporations, gila monsters, or any other being in the cosmos.  The first amendment is actually a limitation on what laws the Congress may pass.  The actual text of the amendment 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.

This amendment just names several areas of subject matter and says Congress is forbidden to make laws on them.  That’s it.  No granting of rights, no definition of persons, privacy, or any such thing.  It says only what the Congress may not do.  And restricting freedom of speech and of the press are two things which the McCain-Feingold act explicitly sought to do.  The Court was correct to say the law was unconstitutional.

The Founders feared the day would come when people began to think of rights as something granted by the government which could as easily be revoked by the government.  This line from the article is example of that kind of thought:

A Constitutional amendment is needed to deny corporations personhood and thereby strip corporations of all constitutional rights conferred on them piecemeal by the Supreme Court over the decades.

The whole problem is that people have begun to think of rights as something conferred on them by the government and have stopped thinking of the Constitution as an outline of what government may — and just as importantly — may not do.  What should be clear to Americans, but isn’t, is that writing a law on the subject of free speech is off limits to the Congress regardless of whom it impacts.  This is the kind of insight you’d have if you assumed God endowed men with their rights and the Constitution was written in light of that fact.  And it’s the kind of thing that would never occur to you if you were unaware of the Christian foundations of our republic.

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