Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Constitutional Shield Sought for Hurt Feelings

Measure would provide new rights to offended Americans

Dispatch from the Future
September 24, 2015

WASHINGTON (Gloomberg News) –  U.S. Rep. Dave Caloraire (D-New York) announced Wednesday that he will propose an amendment to the Constitution putting new legal tools into the hands of offended Americans.  The announcement drew immediate cries of alarm from free speech advocates, who vowed to defeat the measure.

In unveiling the proposal, Caloraire said, “For nearly two and a half centuries, Americans who’ve been forced to hear offensive speech have had no choices other than to sit and suffer through it.  It’s time for that to change.”

The amendment would replace the existing free speech language in the Bill of Rights with new language governing what Americans can say to one another.  It would not ban any speech directly, but instead would give anyone offended by the words of another the right to sue.  The proposal would apply to any kind of speech in any setting, including political speech, jokes, insults, sexually harassing comments—even fleeting expletives.

Caloraire said recent incidents of public figures and businessmen making offensive and/or irresponsible remarks inspired him to act.  “Donald Sterling, the Benham Brothers, Paula Deen, Phil Robertson—they’re all examples of people who made offensive statements, and paid a price for it.  But guess who got left out of that?  The people actually offended.  This amendment would change that, and give them a way to seek recompense for their emotional anguish.”

Initial reaction among politicians on the Hill was subdued.  Both major parties seemed to be mulling it over, weighing the benefits of being able to stifle the other side’s rhetoric against the problem of having their own speech subjected to closer scrutiny.  “I think if we had to, the Democrats could live with it,” said Senator Jane Puffenblow (D-Pennsylvania).  “But what worries me is that if we pass this thing, the Republicans might actually comply.  I hate to think what an election season would look like without GOP politicos chomping on their feet.  If they start governing their pieholes, it would deprive us of some of our best ammunition.”

However, reaction among was swift among free speech advocates.  “This isn’t just an attack on the First Amendment,” said Patricia Ringahan of the First Freedom Forum.  “It’s a nuclear strike.”  Ringahan said she’s worried that Americans might be in the mood to consider an amendment like Caloraire’s.  “Free speech is always under pressure from one special interest group or another,” she said.  “The First is the country’s least popular Constitutional amendment.  I think a lot people would give it up in a heartbeat.”

The amendment’s reach would extend far beyond political speech.   Analysts say that as a practical matter, it would make public prayer impossible, since anyone of another faith might be offended. 

Alarmed privacy advocates noted that the amendment would even apply to speech in the home.  “You could have wives suing husbands for shouting obscenities during a football game,” said Michael Sakaham of Americans for Privacy.  “It’ll be a disaster.  There’d be absolutely no safe haven for men anywhere.  Not even the locker room.”

“We’re already well past that point,” Caloraire said in response to questions about privacy.  “Look at what happened to Sterling.  He makes a comment to an intimate friend in private, and the next thing you know, his words are plastered all over the Internet, and he’s being pilloried in the press.  No one focused on his right to privacy.  What they focused on was the offensive nature of his comments, as they should.”

Caloraire said he felt no qualms about modifying a right that’s defined America since its founding.  “A friend and I were talking about the Sterling case the other day,” Caloraire said.  “And she quipped that we Americans seem to believe we have a Constitutional right not to be offended, when in fact, we don’t.   I thought, you know, she’s right.  And it’s time to change that.”

However, an audio clip of the private exchange posted on the Internet showed that it hadn’t played out precisely as Caloraire described it.  In the actual conversation, Caloraire told a sexually suggestive joke to his friend, apparently in an intimate setting.  When his friend laughingly objected, he told her that while she had a right to feel offended, the Constitution gave him a right to offend her.  The friend responded that maybe it was time for that to change.  Caloraire then conceded that she might have a point.  The remaining audio on the recording was muffled, consisting mainly of grunts and moans.

To become law, the amendment would have to pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority, and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states. 

“It’s a very long shot,” Sakaham said.  “But only if Americans stand up for themselves.  I hope people will do exactly what I plan to do:  tell Caloraire he’s an idiot—while they still can.”

Caloraire said he’ll formally submit his idea in the form of a joint resolution on Monday.


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©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

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