To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Observercast

First Amendment Gets Ill Treatment

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It might be only the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, but it is first in the hearts of Oklahoma Republicans. Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the law declaring Oklahoma a Second Amendment Sanctuary – while also signing new laws to undermine First Amendment guarantees.

Section 2:A of said law claims: “The State Legislature hereby occupies and preempts the entire field of legislation by the federal government, any agency of this state or any political subdivision in this state to infringe upon the rights of a citizen of the State of Oklahoma, the unalienable right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed to them by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Yet, while gun rights made it to the Second Amendment in the federal Bill of Rights at a time when local militias had been instrumental in winning our liberty, it only rated Section 26 in the Oklahoma Constitution’s own Bill of Rights coming hard upon the end of the Wild West.

In fact, probably in recognition of those rough and tumble days, our Constitution’s framers specifically added, “ … but nothing herein contained shall prevent the Legislature from regulating the carrying of weapons.”

Pay attention to the nonsensical claim that this action “preempts the entire field of legislation by the federal government.” As “an inseparable part of the Federal Union,” Oklahoma’s Constitution acknowledges that we cannot pick and choose which federal laws to follow.

State sovereignty begins where federal sovereignty ends. It is not up to Oklahoma to determine the constitutionally of such laws. That’s where the “pay” comes in. This state has spent the past 20 years wasting taxpayers’ money on losing court cases involving unconstitutional legislation.

Republican double-speak surfaces with the notion about banning any infringements not only to own firearms but also to “bear” them. As I pointed out when Stephens County declared its own Second Amendment Sanctuary Status, don’t expect the metal detectors to be removed from the courthouses anytime soon. [And don’t expect everyone to have to pass through them.]

Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney made the Lawton TV news Thursday proclaiming, “What’s next? Our freedom of religion? Our freedom of speech? Look at the Fifth Amendment. Look at the Fourth Amendment. Our rights to be secure in our homes. What’s next? We have to make a stand,” McKinney said.

“What’s next” is already here. Where were our strict constructionists when Gov. Stitt signed laws trying to curb free speech, free press, freedom of assembly and the right to petition our government – all First Amendment guarantees?

HB 1674 says those assembling could be fined up to $5,000 and be sentenced to a year in jail if their protest somehow blocked traffic. For blocking traffic? What about Duncan drivers heading out to Braum’s on Highway 81 at 20 mph?

And organizations could be fined $250,000 if a rally they organized blocked traffic. For blocking traffic?

Worse yet, as Oklahoma Sierra Club Director Jonathan Bridgwater says, the law also shields from liability a driver who injures or kills someone while “fleeing from a riot,” as long as they did so “unintentionally” and held a “reasonable belief” that they needed to flee to protect themselves. Under the bill, such a driver cannot be held civilly or criminally liable for the injuries or death they caused.

Friday, Yahoo! News carried the response of Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, whose twin brother Terrence was killed following a Tulsa traffic stop in 2016. Dr. Crutcher reminds us, “ … we had to take it to the streets to demand that justice be served. Because of our right to march down the streets and our right to assemble, we were able to force the district attorney to indict [Officer] Betty Shelby within the first week.”

“It’s declaring open season,” according to Susan Bro in an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who explains Bro’s ”daughter Heather Heyer was killed in 2017 when a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. ‘Since when do we allow the public to become judge, jury and executioner? Because that’s what this amounts to: Let’s go hunt protesters,’” Bro said.

Hey, a driver’s license to kill. Maybe the young woman sentenced to prison for driving into the Oklahoma State homecoming parade and killing four people should appeal her conviction on the grounds that the celebrants were blocking the street and it scared her.

As Bridgwater notes, we have sufficient laws to govern riots: “Police and prosecutors have more than enough tools to address what happened at the U.S. Capitol.”

The broad definitions of free speech recognized in the courts casts doubt, too, on the new law that forbids using “an electronic communication device to knowingly publish, post or otherwise make publicly available personally identifiable information of a peace officer or public official.”

While bill sponsors claim that this aimed at “identifiable information” such as personal records, the law itself defines “personally identifiable” as “means information which can identify an individual.”

Since people can often be identified by their appearances, this law could punish witnesses for taking and disseminating cell phone video of public occurrences. And the proviso that it does not include “broadcast transmissions” unfairly [and unconstitutionally] targets on-line news sites as second-class members of the media.

Prior to this spate of anti-First Amendment laws, KFOR-TV interviewed Abby Henderson of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable. Her assessment? “They only serve to make sure that fewer people want to raise their voices in Oklahoma using protests and they very likely ensure that more people go to jail for protest related incidents.”

This attack on citizen involvement extends to the right to petition as well. Oklahomans have sidestepped do-nothing legislators in recent years to reform our liquor laws, approve medical marijuana and attain Medicaid expansion.

In the future, petitioners must provide financial impact statements as to the effect their proposals would have on state government. As Bridgwater points out, “This bill would hamper the free and easy flow of citizen-led democracy by adding an additional layer of bureaucracy.”

Our right to petition is guaranteed in both the federal and state Bills of Rights, which point again to this state’s propensity for passing unconstitutional legislation and then wasting our money losing court cases and appeals.

A more conservative and more fiscally responsive Legislature would require that such financial impacts for legislative bills would include the cost of lawsuits to defend their unconstitutionality and their negative economic effects.

Holding legislators personally, financially responsible for the costs of their headline crusades might inspire them to work toward the betterment of the state instead of trying to identify minorities to persecute.

As I write, SB 2 is on the governor’s desk. It would ban transgender athletes from participating in sports in Oklahoma from the kindergarten through the collegiate level. This ridiculous “Save the Women’s Sports Act” has caught the attention of the NCAA Board of Governors which says, “The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports. This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition …

“We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.”

So, our happy haters could cost the state any further NCAA basketball tournaments, not to mention jeopardize the Women’s College World Series, currently set for OKC until 2035. These financial consequences should be considered, spelled out and then compensated by the perpetrators if they take effect.

Of course, unconstitutional anti-abortion bills and laws are favorite bills in Oklahoma, and we got three more laws last week that will face costly legal challenges.

But we are a proud Second Amendment Sanctuary State. First Amendment? Depends on whom you are.

Gary Edmondson
Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democrats. He lives in Duncan, following a sporadic career as a small-town journalist, mostly in Texas, and as an editor of educational audio-visual materials. Some days he's a philosopher/poet, others a poet/philosopher.