Since 1997, the First Amendment Center has supported an annual survey of American attitudes about the First Amendment.
Can you name the five rights guaranteed by the first amendment? (See below *) Only 2/3 of Americans can name one. After freedom of speech, familiarity with the First Amendment (FA) drops dramatically. Over 1/3 of Americans can't name any of the rights it guarantees.
On the positive side, almost 2/3 of Americans say the FA does not go too far in protecting freedom. But 1/3 say it does. Perhaps most disappointingly (and dangerously), half of 18-30-year-olds agree that the FA goes too far in the rights it guarantees. African-Americans and Hispanics are equally dubious—1/2 of each group say it goes too far in its protections.
And yet 3/4 of 18-30 year-olds say musicians should be allowed to sing "offensive lyrics."
One wonders if these young people, Blacks, and Hispanics understand exactly what the FA protects. You want to criticize your Congressmember? It protects you. You want to worship rabbits, the sun, or Rush Limbaugh? It protects you. You want newspapers, websites, and TV to be able to investigate and report the news? The FA guarantees this right. You want to get a few dozen of your neighbors together and march to City Hall to protest the George Zimmerman verdict? You can.
You want your favorite musician to be allowed to sing "offensive lyrics," right? In Russia, the members of Pussy Riot will be in jail until they're sick and forgotten.
People who say the FA goes too far in protecting our rights presumably mean other people's rights. I've never heard someone say "I shouldn't be allowed to worship my own oddball religion," or "My songs are so radical I shouldn't be allowed to sing them in the park."
I'm in no way a conspiracy theorist (after all, never attribute to evil what can be explained by stupidity). But surely our government doesn't mind that half of our young people and largest ethnic minorities don't understand just how far their rights are protected—and why it's so absolutely essential that they are.
Speaking of which, do people who diss the FA understand that without it, their porn is gone? Their video games are gone, their Daily Show is gone, even their tattoos are in danger? And did I mention their porn is gone? And that without the FA, Mormonism could easily be outlawed, and evangelical Christians could be zoned out of building churches? And did I mention that porn would be gone?
Speaking of porn, yet another poor clerk was arrested May 7 for selling porn DVDs in a Florida convenience store. Fortunately, Minakashiben Patel was able to get pro bono representation from super attorney Larry Walters, who reminded Polk County, Florida of that First Amendment that 60 million Americans think protects us way too much.
Still, the state only agreed to drop the case if Ms. Patel "donated" $2,000 to the Drug Abuse Prevention Fund. And even then, she won't get back the DVDs seized by police, another financial burden. In fact, attorney Walters couldn't even learn the titles of the confiscated movies, because they're treated as contraband.
Sheriff Grady Judd's stated goal is to eliminate pornography from Polk County. One day he will die. But there will always be another generation of Sheriff Judds to replace him. That's why we'll always need another generation of attorneys like Larry Walters, and another generation that can name, and support, the extraordinary protections of the First Amendment.
[* Freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition the government, and freedom of speech.]<
There were scientists, philosophers, environmentalists, computer geeks—in all, an intelligent, fun-loving crowd that takes reason seriously.
And so there were a lot of atheists. And a lot of t-shirts: the Jesus fish roasting on a grill of science. "We are all Africans." "Facts do not cease to exist because they're ignored." "Praise bacon."
I spoke on "Junk Science, Moral Panics and Sex," and was received warmly. In fact, during the course of the weekend I was approached by dozens of people variously thanking me, revealing their non-traditional sexual arrangements, or sharing their stories.
Many of those stories were about religion and its impact on their sexuality while growing up. There were tales of guilt, shame, Biblical warnings, and more guilt. By now, everyone's heard one of these stories: "When I was a kid I was told that God hated my sexual feelings, thoughts, or desires. I learned to hate or fear my sexual impulses. I was sure everyone could tell that I masturbated or had bad impulses." Etc.
I don't trivialize the power of these early injunctions; as a therapist, I clean up their debris every week. But there's another way in which religion undermines our sexuality: by stealing our sense of agency—about life in general, but particularly about sex.
For millennia, religion has colonized sexuality. Religion dictates who is eligible for sex, under what conditions, which activities, and which parts of the body in which combinations. It doesn't matter what the rules are; what matters is that there are rules.
Whether forbidding oral sex, forbidding intercourse during menstruation, forbidding sex between unmarried people, the dynamic is always the same. Believers are stripped of ownership of their bodies and their sexuality.
Sexuality is religion's worst nightmare, because it offers the possibility of personal autonomy. Anyone can be sexual—rich or poor, old or young, tall or short, educated or not. So religion attempts to seize sex as its own domain. Religion says that sexuality is about "morality" (rather than, say, science, art, friendship, conflict resolution, or even ethics). And religion claims a monopoly on morality: "Who would be good if they weren't afraid of going to hell?" they cynically question, reducing all people to the moral level of three-year-olds.
So religion says "sex is our domain." And since religion's idea of sexual "morality" is primarily about limiting sexual expression (rather than ethical or rational decision-making), religion's ideas about sex center on 'don't do this, don't do that.'
Again, the worst of it isn't the content of these limitations. It's the very idea that some external institution, thousands of years old, gets to enforce some arbitrary and meaningless list of behaviors that you can't do. Religion treats every believer like a child who's too greedy, selfish, ignorant, or violent to make rational, collaborative sexual decisions.
My patients from religious backgrounds, 40 years after their childhoods, still have trouble knowing what sexual behaviors they like, and feeling they have the right to choose sexual activities simply based on personal preference. Many couples are paralyzed by religious injunctions preventing them from cooperating or even talking about eroticism.
When it comes to sex, religion says Thou Shalt Not…think, consider, empathize, or decide. Just follow the rules.As one t-shirt at TAM says, "Religion—together we can find a cure."
The Attorney General of Virginia—I am not making this up—has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Virginia to criminalize oral and anal sex.
Early this year, a federal appeals court vacated the conviction—based on Virginia's anti-sodomy law—of a 47-year-old man who solicited sex with a 17-year-old woman (who is over the age of consent in Virginia). Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wants the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.
The ladies of The View enthusiastically ripped Cuccinelli. Whoopi Goldberg even threatened "I'm gonna make sure your behind doesn't become governor." (Whoopi, let me know exactly how much money you donate to his opponent.)
The issue of anti-sodomy legislation has absolutely nothing to do with protecting children. The anti-sodomy law applies to adult-adult consensual sex, gay or straight. Either a human is old enough to legally consent to sex, or s/he isn't. And like every state, Virginia has plenty of laws punishing non-consenting sex as well as adult-child sexual exploitation.
But Cuccinelli is running for Governor (guess which party?), and he's turning this into a "protect the children" thing. On his website he quotes a civic leader who's so angry and frightened she overlooks the facts; I've helpfully added a few:
At the heart of the defendant's appeal is an effort to legalize sex acts between adults and children [NOT TRUE]. A crime against a child is still a crime against a child [SHE'S OVER THE AGE OF CONSENT…. For the Fourth Circuit, an inability to distinguish between consensual adult-adult sex and a sex crime committed [SOLICITING, NOT DOING] against a child [17—A "CHILD"?] by an adult is outrageous. For Virginia's children, the result of this case is catastrophic."[IT HAS NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER.]
It's a classic example of creating a moral panic, and then harnessing the resulting fear and anger for political gain. Who isn't against adults sexually exploiting children? The real-life situation has nothing to do with this issue, but any tenuous link that Cuccinelli can make between the two can be exploited for his benefit.
The question for America (yet again) is about our desperate, recurring need to create a sexual "them," an "other" whose sexuality is drastically different from ordinary people's, and dangerous to everyone. So even though a huge majority of American couples have oral sex at some point, millions of people around the country support outlawing it.
Politicians, religious leaders, and do-gooders use oral sex—and sodomy, non-monogamy, nudism, S/M, vibrators, and other common erotic behaviors—as code for "those people aren't like us," even when "those people" ARE like us. In fact, they ARE us. But creating a dangerous, degenerate, out-of-control sexual "other" is such a dependable trope for motivating people, no political, religious, or civic leader in their right mind can give it up. They are captivated by the power the trope gives them.
As the word "homosexual" loses it power to terrify and galvanize, the political exploitation of other marginalized groups will increase. Sex offenders are the most obvious target. People into S/M and non-monogamy will also feel the heat.
There are about 6 million adults in Virginia. Say that 3 million vote. Whether he wins or loses, Cuccinelli will get at least 1.25 million votes. Statistics suggest that at least a half-million of these people periodically have oral or anal sex. But they'll tell themselves that the sexual degenerates Cuccinelli is aiming for aren't them. In a way, they're right—these sexual degenerates aren't ANYONE. They're a terrifying, infinitely malleable idea that's far bigger and more dangerous than any individual could possibly be.
That's the Republican Party for you—they want to shrink government smaller and smaller until it can fit under your bedroom door. And millions of Americans keep inviting them in—as the price they willingly pay for having "others" patrolled and controlled.