This week, my high school students will study and memorize the First Amendment. I have a real-life example of the First Amendment in action to share with the classes, thanks to a note from a non-fan of this educational page. You might find this interchange instructive, as I did. Here goes:
The man was on his way to a celebration for a friend who had just become an American citizen when the Truck-erz convoy stopped traffic. The convoy had a police escort, which angered the man. He said, “The police stopped all traffic, and we were among thousands of people trapped for 30 minutes while the adult tantrum of a few trucks slowly drove through …to honk their horns… and I hope these strange people get the therapy they need.”
Here is a teachable moment. The man is on his way to celebrate a new
American citizen. The celebrant pledged allegiance to the American flag and accepted the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment. That, right there, is a cause to remember that plenty of people on the planet see the value in a peaceful protest and a right to petition their government for a redress of grievances. Just ask the 15,000 Russians detained recently for their anti-war demonstrations and dissent.
My response to the young man: “First Amendment-you gotta love it even when peaceful protesters aren’t protesting for your (or my) favorite cause.”
The young man continued: “First Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to a police escort that ruins people’s Saturday afternoons. They can drive and honk for the rest of their miserable lives for all I care. But they got special treatment. The softest display of attention-seeking. [ I ] missed half of the American citizenship party. I wish they had a cause…!”
My response: “I’m sorry you missed half of the (citizenship) party. Glad that you have the right to voice your opinion, too. I’m for [all] Americans peacefully protesting.” I went on to say, “Wish you could have talked to one or two of the protestors personally to hear their story, just like I’ve had to listen to all kinds of protesters with whom I disagree, and had to look beyond the fault to see the need.”
Remember what we learned some time ago about conversing with a person who has an opposing viewpoint:
Know what you believe.
Know what the other person believes.
Know what they believe about what you believe.
I believe in all five First Amendment rights: freedom of religion, speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The other person in this article believes that he believes in all of those rights, too, as long as everyone else agrees with him and doesn’t inconvenience or offend him. Since I want all Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights, even when I vehemently disagree with their cause, he believes this is automatic permission to insult me.
Know this: You have won the argument when the name-calling and personal attacks start. Never resort to personal attacks. Debate the issues, not personalities. This young man went on to say that the protestors who inconvenienced him were adults who took my Constitution class (not true, but I would gladly have welcomed them to my local class). He also suggested that they don’t know how to love their neighbor as they love themselves. In other words, they were Christians who weren’t practicing their faith and seemed to intimate that I, as a Christian, am not loving mine either by supporting their right to assemble and petition their government. His final insult was to midwesterners, which I will not repeat here. Obviously, he does not live in “flyover country.”
I will not only teach the First Amendment this week to my teen students but will be instructing them on how to handle opposition. We’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating: Some people come for understanding. Others come for an argument. Know the difference and let the one with the insults have the last word. How much of your day do you want to devote to defending yourself to someone who believes you are inherently wrong?
May we all grow in our knowledge and understanding of our God-given rights.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸