People often ask me what I miss about the USA when I’m overseas and I usually give a smart-aleck answer like, “Baywatch reruns” or “24/7 access to quality ice cream.” While nothing says home and America quite like sitting in my recliner at 2 a.m. eating some Cherry Garcia and watching Pam Anderson (circa 1992) running in slow motion, I guess the real answer is I miss the freedom the most.
I know that sounds corny and I know that people are free in most countries I visit but when I’m home I understand my freedom. I know, for example, that if I return from a long business trip and find a platoon of national guardsmen is living in my home, I probably need another divorce lawyer but not a civil rights lawyer because the Third Amendment expressly prohibits soldiers from being quartered in my house without my consent.
The Bill of Rights prohibits the government from making me let troops sleep in my house; it’s a freedom I understand. If my wife has chosen to host another one of her “support the troops” sleepover parties I’m probably looking at more a family law issue than a civil rights matter ... again.
I’m a huge fan of the Bill of Rights because it spells out the basic freedoms we all enjoy just because we’re Americans. We don’t have to ask for these rights, they’re ours and even though I enjoy and exercise most of them. I have my favorites.
As a semi-pro humor columnist I’m a particular fan of the First Amendment’s free speech and free press protection. It’s what allows me to write that the very existence of the Department of Homeland Security would be a frighteningly un-American government snatching of our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure if they were any good at it without fear of them coming after me. Well, my First Amendment rights and the fact that there’s not much chance any TSA official will read the editorial page because the funny pages are way in the back.
The First Amendment is very cool because it really sets us free to practice any religion we want to (even that one), to say what we want, write about whatever we want and to “peaceably” assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances. That means that, as long as they are peaceful about it, whackos have the right to practice their strange religions, broadcast or publish “fake news” and to march down the street and chant about it. How else would you explain Methodists, Fox News or the crowd at a Raider’s game?
That’s the beauty of being American, even people we totally disagree with have the same rights as we do. Even better, there is nothing in the First Amendment that requires me to attend, support or listen to whackos freely expressing their views. If you don’t want to attend the Gay Pride Parade you don’t have to, your remote control will allow you to change the channel from MSNBC to ESPN 7 to watch the International Women’s Curling Championship and if you don’t like what I write here you may line your birdcage or wrap fish with the paper. America ... what a country!
The Second Amendment gets a lot of attention even though it’s not a complex Amendment. It consists of one sentence that says, along with other things, that the right of people to keep and bare arms shall not be infringed. Seems simple enough but because we all have First Amendment rights it seems everyone has an opinion about what that really means.
Some folks believe that the government has a responsibility to protect us from gun violence by restricting our right to “keep and bare arms.” Using that same logic one could insist the government protect us from diabetes and heart disease by restricting our access to fast food and requiring us to exercise daily. There’s no Amendment securing our right to Happy Meals is there?
Wait, there is an Amendment that covers Happy Meals!! The Tenth Amendment, probably the best one, says that any power not specifically given to the government by the Constitution (including assault rifles and Happy Meals) are reserved to the states or to the people.
That means if there’s not a law against it, I can do it…and I think I will. I’m going to watch some Baywatch re-runs and eat a chili-cheeseburger because I’m free and I can. It’s good to be home!
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.