Did the First Amendment (Originally) Apply to Catholics?

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Jimbee68, Apr 4, 2021.

  1. Jimbee68

    Jimbee68 Member

    Well, at least one televangelist I saw ironically said 'no'. (I saw this quite a while ago, so sorry, no cite.) The First Amendment was simply never originally meant to apply to Roman Catholics (or Jewish people, or Islam, or Buddhism--you get the picture). So much for original intent.

    Does anyone know what I am talking about?

  2. Balbus

    Balbus Super Moderator Staff Member Super Moderator

    The thing is that the First Amendment was never the thing that many Americans think it is but it has more often than not been about political dissidents than religious ones.

    For example the socialist Eugene Debs was sentenced in 1918 to ten years in prison and had his ‘right’ to vote taken away from him for life. His crime was speaking out against the administration of President Woodrow Wilson and US involvement in WWI.

    How the sedition act worked and the true worth of the first amendment is explained by Howard Zinn talking of the first Sedition act of 1798 (page 100 – A Peoples History of the United States)

    This act seemed to directly violate the First Amendment. Yet, it was enforced. Ten Americans were put in prison for utterances against the government, and every member of the Supreme Court in 1798-1800, sitting as an appellate judge, held it constitutional.

    There was a legal basis for this, one known to legal experts, but not to the ordinary American, who would read the First Amendment and feel confident that he or she was protected in the exercise of free speech. That basis has been explained by historian Leonard Levy. Levy points out that it was generally understood (not in the population, but in higher circles) that, despite the First Amendment, the British common law of "seditious libel" still ruled in America. This meant that while the government could not exercise "prior restraint"-that is, prevent an utterance or publication in advance-it could legally punish the speaker or writer afterward. Thus, Congress has a convenient legal basis for the laws it has enacted since that time, making certain kinds of speech a crime. And, since punishment after the fact is an excellent deterrent to the exercise of free expression, the claim of "no prior restraint" itself is destroyed.

    This leaves the First Amendment much less than the stone wall of protection it seems at first glance".

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