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Opinion Column
For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

The First Amendment—
it’s 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 everyone’s liking.

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 homosexuals—except 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 they’re not, when broad liberties of the First Amendment are in play.

Weyrich’s newspaper motto —"Hometown Journalism at Its Best"—is pure hyperbole. In fact, by ordering reporters to use biased reporting, Weyrich isn’t 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 homosexuals.

But, that’s his right. The First Amendment, in effect, says so.

The First Amendment doesn’t 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 two-thirds majority.

As an incurable Doubting Thomas, I suspect most senators who’ve 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 couldn’t possibly be ratified by the necessary 38 states for years, if at all, and long after they’ve 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 should—get 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 radio commentator.

 

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