The First Amendment
its there for all to use
Commentary by PAT MURPHY
In dramatically different episodes, and in culturally opposite settings,
the First Amendment was put to the test and survived gloriously, if not to everyones
In Washington, the Senate rejected another attempt to amend the U.S.
Constitution to make criminals of anyone who "desecrates" the U.S. flag.
Then, a continent away, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., millionaire religious
conservative and winemaker-turned-newspaper publisher David Weyrich ordered reporters on
his free-distribution weekly to never write anything about homosexualsexcept
negative stories that make gays look positively evil.
To their credit, virtually all his reporters resigned to protest
corruption of journalism ethics. Weyrich thereupon replaced them with a staff willing to
obey this bizarre dictate.
Connecting the actions of the Senate and Weyrich may seem far-fetched. But
theyre not, when broad liberties of the First Amendment are in play.
Weyrichs newspaper motto "Hometown Journalism at Its
Best"is pure hyperbole. In fact, by ordering reporters to use biased reporting,
Weyrich isnt publishing a "news" paper in the accepted sense, but a sheet
promoting a personal prejudice and doing what my dictionary defines as a smear of
But, thats his right. The First Amendment, in effect, says so.
The First Amendment doesnt require anyone enjoying tenets of free
speech, a free press, freedom of religion, freedom to petition the government and freedom
to assemble to be fair, accurate, honest, virtuous, objective, sensible or kind.
Back to Washington and another foiled attempt to make criminals out of
eccentrics who burn Old Glory for whatever ails them. The Senate vote of 63 to 37 lacked a
As an incurable Doubting Thomas, I suspect most senators whove been
promoting this amendment that effectively would limit free speech are flag waving for the
"patriot" vote with few risks. They get the glory of supporting an amendment
they know full well couldnt possibly be ratified by the necessary 38 states for
years, if at all, and long after theyve left office.
If you doubt some senators are playing games, consider this: Title 36 of
the U.S. Code, Chapter 10, Section 176 specifies that old, unserviceable flags
shouldget this!be burned. So, how come senators who presumably are aware of
this provision want to make a protestor who burns Old Glory a criminal, but American
Legionnaires who burn flags patriots?
Protestors who make our blood boil with their silly burning of Old Glory
will continue to enjoy the First Amendment freedom to protest, just as publisher Weyrich
is free to hold gays up to ridicule.
Only in America could wacky protesters and a millionaire publisher who
wants to smear gays have the same thing in common: protection of the Constitution.
Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former