Saturday, January 20, 2018

Which Liberties Get Priority?

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines a variety of rights:  freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government.  We have spent the centuries discussing/arguing about the rights that are guaranteed and what it all means.

What is discussed more rarely is what to do when rights conflict with each other.  Some of those conflicts are easily navigated.  But most of them are not.

As I was trying to determine whether or not I was correct in the above paragraph, I came across this listing of every Supreme Court case that involves the first amendment, divided by the specific freedom guaranteed.  Since I just discovered it, I haven't had a chance to do much analysis.  The list includes the year of each court case; what does a sociologist or a historian make of which cases made their way to the highest court in the land during which year?  Can we make any pronouncements about what issues united and divided us when it comes to first amendment rights?

Right now, I'm fascinated by the religious liberty aspect.  What do we do when one person's religious rights are in conflict with one person's free speech (in the form of artistic cake expression)?  The Supreme Court will let us know this year.  The current administration seems to be more sympathetic to those who claim to be a Christian religious minority and thus have had their rights trampled upon by the past administration.

I'm not talking about Shakers or Mormons, of course.  I'm talking about health care workers who have to participate in abortions or birth control.

I feel some sympathy, while at the same time, I feel some trepidation at the road we travel down when we let people opt out of medical procedures and commerce because they don't approve.  I worry that we're headed towards a different kind of tyranny, one that won't be very friendly towards me or people like me (women, liberals, liberation theology types, Marxists, Socialists, artists, older people, childfree/petfree by choice--the list could go on and on, but you get the idea).

This year promises to be an interesting one, as more cases work their way through the system, which will force the courts (and some of us) to clarify which liberties should get priority.

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