Are There Limits To Your Constitutional Rights?

An Exceptional Concept…

Our U.S. Constitution specifically includes the reservation of certain precious and fundamental rights to particular individuals and institutions. That Costaggini_painting--Reading_of_the_Declaration_of_Independenceconcept was somewhat exceptional when it all occurred.  The general rule for those times, was that a certain institution or symbolic human would have all of the rights and powers, and sort of loan them out to the use of certain other individuals, and for more-or-less political reasons.  This was the crux of the so-called “Feudal System”, where there was the King or Emperor who “had it all”, and as a part of a divine right. Then, and in layers below him, there would be the privileged Knights, Barons, Dukes and Bishops, who would supervise,  use and otherwise exploit the surfs and the soldiers.

The “Perfect Garden”

Then, there became the Declaration of Independence, and the radical idea that all men are created equal —– although, in practice, some were apparently more equal than others.  When the Constitution of a Nation that would be founded on such fantastic ideas was actually being written, and as almost an afterthought as the founders were constructing the elaborate institutions and procedures for  formal interactions between the various states and a central government, it was if they all just stopped at one point, and imagined an almost perfect garden, where there could be nurtured a bed of precious and exquisitely beautiful flowers, which would eternally be preserved in the form of certain basic personal entitlements for individual common citizens.  They specifically did this in what would become the first 10 Amendments to the entire Constitution; which would come to be called, “The Bill of Rights.”

The Bill of Rights are the Fundamental and Inalienable Rights that everyone seems to talk about as being absolute entitlements.  But that’s not exactly true.  It is true, that if the government, and in many cases even individuals, should attempt to interfere with any of those fundamental rights, there should have to be an extremely compelling reason for doing so.

How Much For Free Speech?

For instance, and with particular reference to one of the most precious of those fundamental rights, being the Freedom of Speech written in the First Amendment, it was once observed by a famous U.S, Supreme Court Justice, when he was writing an opinion for a case that addressed a challenge to that Freedom, that the strength of the right to free speech, does not extend to the unbridled right to just yell “Fire” in an open theater.  Such an ability would pose an unacceptable danger to any civilized society.

So, while the protection of the right of free speech is precious, if there would be a compelling state interest in regulating the “time, place and manner” of the use and exercise of that particular right, it would be incumbent on the “state” to so regulate, and for the citizenry give in and permit such a regulation and limit.  The same would be true to the regulation of the time, place and manner of the use of a fire arm; or an automobile, for that manner.

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