Rights: Remember, every American has them

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 11, 2009

Let’s not forget that rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution are individual rights. No person’s rights trump anyone else’s.

There has been a sincere, heartfelt reaction by some to last Saturday’s arrest at the Old Court House Flea Market of Micah Bishop, 34, on misdemeanor charges of creating a disturbance and failing to obey a lawful order of a police officer. Some of the conclusions, however, are misplaced. Specifically, there is the presumption that Bishop was charged because he was preaching a Christian message.

The specific rights mentioned include freedom of speech and religion. Both are to be cherished and protected.

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However, an individual’s freedom of speech, courts have correctly ruled, cannot overtly trump another individual’s right to peace and quiet. For example, the freedom of speech does not guarantee that a person can walk through a neighborhood at 2 a.m. using a loudspeaker to invite people to come to a church or go to the state fair or anything else. The right to freedom of speech is not content-based or content-restricted. Any person can walk up to another and engage that person on any topic. But the recipient of the message has an equal right to end the encounter. The right to speak does not create an obligation for others to listen. The right to speak also does not include a right to overwhelm the conversations of others. They have rights, too, and to not respect their rights is, by definition, to create a disturbance.

Freedom of religion is a different right, equally important, but improperly linked and inapplicable to this situation. Freedom of religion is, again, an individual right, a deeply personal right. Your freedom of religion protects your right to believe what you want to believe when it comes to matters of faith. The government, which is all the Constitution controls, is absolutely prohibited from telling you what you must or must not believe. When people offer a religious message from a pulpit, door-to-door or on the street, that’s not a freedom of religion matter. It’s expression and, therefore, is counterbalanced by the freedoms of those on the receiving end of the message.

Bishop has pleaded innocent and will have his day in court. Understandably, it’s an emotional case. Beware those who say the charges signify, “America has turned against God.” Instead, think about what rights are and what they aren’t. Freedom of religion is not threatened by this case, nor is freedom of speech. Micah Bishop has constitutional rights. Every other citizen does, too.