Recently, Sarah Childs exercised her alleged First Amendment rights by displaying lights in her yard in the shape of an upraised middle finger. The obscene “Christmas” decoration was a response to an undisclosed dispute between Childs and her neighbors. New Orleans police responded to complaints by citing Childs for public obscenity. She took down the lights until she was contacted by the ever-helpful ACLU, who sued the city for her. They claimed she was merely exercising her First Amendment rights. They argued that, in fact, New Orleans didn’t even have a public obscenity law (If it does, they might want to crack down a little in the Red Light District). Pending a hearing, a New Orleans judge has ruled in Childs’s favor. So she put the lights back up, along with an extra matching hand, then started singing obscene songs about her neighbors from her driveway. I’m really glad we have judges bold enough to rectify such egregious miscarriages of justice. But really, how are lovers of liberty supposed to respond to this?
It seems the only purpose of the First Amendment anymore is to allow nasty people to continue being nasty with impunity. I find it odd that a nativity scene in a public place could be cited for blurring the so called “separation between church and state,” but obscenities of every kind have the full protection of the law. It raises the question: What was the original purpose of the First Amendment? And more importantly, what is its purpose now?
John Adams said that the Constitution was meant for a moral people, and it was fit to govern none else. And this is true. In a land where common sense and common decency aren’t common at all, people who love freedom and liberty are forced to make a very difficult choice: Do we forego our own rights in order to rein in the license and corruption of our neighbors? Or do we put up with the pervasive depravity and lowness of our culture in order to secure for ourselves a bare modicum of self-governance? It’s a difficult choice. In his farewell speech to Congress, Ron Paul pointed out the only real solution to this dilemma: “Changing the government is secondary to promoting a virtuous society.”
Why? Because liberty cannot work without virtue. It becomes corrupted by license. It even becomes license over time. And that is what it has become in our culture. Without a moral people, freedom breaks down. Gun control wouldn’t even be on the table in a virtuous society. We spend so much time trying to get the right people elected. But a perfect government cannot redeem a selfish, immoral people. But at Christmas, if at no other time, let’s remember who can.