Tuesday, May 14, 2013

PBS: "Constitution USA with Peter Sagal" from Twin Cities PBS

PBS stations aired a special from Twin Cities Public Television. “Constitution USA” with Peter Sagal.
The one-hour documentary opened with an explanation of how the Bill of Rights came into being, around 1791.  The states were not willing to ratify a new constitution without the promise that some explicit rights would soon be enumerated.  In fact, the word “freedom” doesn’t appear in the original 4000+ word Constitution.  Fortunately, a few paths for amendment had already been provided. 
I recall, that on the cover of my original 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” book, I “goofed” and gave the age of the Bill of Rights as about 160 years when It was really about 206 years at the time.  The error was caught by a reader in late 1998 and corrected for the iUniverse printing.  I was living in Minneapolis at the time, so the appearance of the film as sourced in Minnesota is interesting, even ironic.  The film also talks about “fundamental rights”, and my second booklet (at the end of 1998) was called “Our Fundamental Rights”.

Yet, the original Bill of Rights was more a matter of limiting the federal government than anything else.  (Some of it was “incorporated” to the states after the Civil War with the 14th Amendment.)  It really didn’t spell out many individual rights the way libertarians see them today.

True, the First Amendment specifically talked about religion, speech, and the press – but more in limiting what government could do.  Would the “press” include bloggers today? 

And it wasn’t until 2010 that the Supreme Court ruled on whether the right to bear arms applies to individuals – at least do defend their own homes.

The film presented a lawsuit by a Cranston, RI high school student against the posting of a school prayer. She won, and angered the townspeople.

The film also covered an 8-1 Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket and speak at military funerals, no matter how offensive the message that God punishes the country and the military for tolerating gays.  The program covered the idea that the Supreme Court rigorously defends the right of the speaker from censorship based on content, although reasonable means can be taken to protect order at public events.

The show explains why the Supreme Court even granted corporations the right (as "artificial people") to free speech based on content.  

The link for the show is here
There were scenes at an old tavern in Philadelphia. 

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