Amendment I: Get it Together Over There

Since 1787, these tenets of the first amendment have been augmented from time to time and standing up for one while denigrating the others is not only unfair and hypocritical, it is turning a blind eye to the history of the legal system in this country.

There are times that picking up produce from the grocery store hits harder than at other times. Through masked lips, the Dickensian introduction rolls off our tongues as poetically as ever. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” So what happens when a bag of romas carries you to the precipice of the abyss? Is the abyss eyeing your tomatoes? Or you?

We are caught between Executive Order 20-18(rock) and House Concurrent Resolution 5025(a hard place).

The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

This language was born of experience and has been transformed many ways in the years following its ratification. Law is a fluid thing and no words are set in stone. The mark of a good lawyer is to be able to responsibly and deftly argue both sides of a matter; whichever is needed. In that respect, tunnel vision and obstinance in interpreting the law may allow you to remain steadfast in your beliefs but it does not make it reality for the population. Events of recent have folks asking, what is law and what is bluster?

A virus, it is said, lies somewhere between a living and a non-living state. When a virus comes into contact with a host cell it may insert its genetic material to take over the functions of that cell. The host then produces more of the virus rather than its normal products. Recall, this is the explanation of a virus, not a political party.

Covid-19, a coronavirus, is racing through humanity and is devastating thousands of people’s lives, if not millions. The way this virus transmits allows it to go undetected in some and lethally visible in others. A person may have it and not know it. And just because a person may not know they have it doesn’t mean they didn’t play a role in possibly transmitting it. This has brought a new term into day-to-day vernacular; social distancing. Social distancing is the major tool humans have right now to slow the spread of this virus.

The federal government in the United States has been recalcitrant in its approach to develop a coherent, cohesive “safer at home” policy to slow the virus. States across the country are implementing varying levels of orders to keep people at a safe distance from each other. Some, haphazardly.

Kansas has a state-wide order but some neighboring states do not. A virus does not understand political borders. And as you may recall from elementary school, the type of map that outlines states, cities, and the like are called political maps. To this point, politics may be the undoing of a successful approach to curbing this virus’s enthusiasm for wreaking havoc on humanity.
In Kansas, Governor Kelly’s executive order limiting gatherings of more than 10 people was extended to churches and religious organizations among other entities in sections 1. (b) and (c).

The Legislative Coordinating Committee, which self-granted the power to override executive orders just recently, one might think as a GOP-led reaction to the growing momentum for Medicaid expansion to create a preemptive rule to counter any threat of a potential executive order to expand medicaid, and one might think in line with actions by the GOP in Wisconsin as well where the GOP legislature stripped executive powers once their party lost control of the governorship there, and one might think that the maintaining of political power is priority one rather than helping We, the People, and one might think well, after Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in the #SCOTUS that “We, the People” took in a whole lot more by accepting the notion that corporations are people even if political refugees and immigrants and migrant laborers are not, and one might think this is all tangential to where the hell this sentence began…BUT all of these things are connected.

The dismantling and disenfranchising of US citizen’s ability and access to vote has been a key pillar in the maintenance of a political party’s power that seems to favor certain rights over others in our Constitution. The many wedges that people in political power use to leverage our differences to further political gains to feed greed and power have been sharpened over the last century.

Imagine the game-pieces of Trivial Pursuit. They are circles broken into wedges and what you have there is a whole piece once you put all the wedges together. So that if you no longer divide that circle by its wedges you have won. The game is designed to slow you from gaining the pieces to make the circle whole. To make it One.

A wedge is gun rights, voting rights, labor rights, immigration rights, abortion rights, healthcare rights. You have an idea of what you believe and lean one way or the other and PR machines for political parties or corporations or other entities sharpen the wedge and drive it between you and your neighbor. Without the wedge, as a whole, you and your neighbors have a community where the common good is developed for the improvement of all. The tug of war between ideas is civil and productive.

But there’s money in them there wedges. “Donate now to help us protect this or stop that.” Administrative costs balloon and pretty soon you are just sustaining someone else’s lifestyle instead of contributing to the cause you thought you were promoting.

So what is promoted or protected when the Legislative Coordinating Council at the Kansas Legislature decides to override the Governor’s order to lower in-person gatherings of any type to fewer than 10 people? The wedge is religious freedom. But no one is saying you can’t be this or that or practice this or that. The idea is to slow the spread of this virus while also being respective of people’s right to religious freedom. The GOP would suggest no law should be made to prohibit the free exercise of religion. Agreed. BUT this is the same amendment guaranteeing free speech, free press, freedom to peaceably assemble and freedom to a redress of grievances against the government.

Since 1787, these tenets of the first amendment have been augmented from time to time and standing up for one while denigrating the others is not only unfair and hypocritical, it is turning a blind eye to the history of the legal system in this country. This is a legal system heavily respectful of precedent. I’m choosing my words here carefully because I’ve heard it stated many times by many people from unemployed citizens to lawyers that this judicial system we have is more of a legal system than a justice system. You argue the law and hope for justice.

If it is too difficult to have religious services broadcast online then maybe we have a failure as a nation to ensure equal and free access to internet. If we suggest it is more important to let people gather in-person in large groups to practice religion during a highly contagious pandemic then possibly we have a failure in this nation of free and quality education. If the understanding of viruses and vaccines is a wedge issue, which it has become with the anti-vax movement, then we have not placed the money and tools necessary into the nation to let that be understood. The funding of the military is necessary, but pumping the obscene amount of treasure we have into it naturally displaces funds that could lift up other areas of the country.

We now have a situation where people’s lives are at risk because their healthcare is tied directly to their employment. This is a policy failure. Have you ever changed jobs or lost one and been without health insurance? Any needed doctor or dentist visit quickly balloons and when it bursts you are facing devastating debt and possibly bankruptcy.

As of April 9, 2020, over 16 MILLION people have filed for unemployment in the USA. This is going to have repercussions no one can begin to imagine. Delaying the slowing of this virus by allowing large groups of any kind to gather promotes further devastation to families, communities, the economy, and possibly national security. An entire navy ship of some 4,000 sailors was recently hit with the virus, over half of them positive for Covid-19. When their leader sounded an alarm, he was dismissed by the President. The GOP will not answer for this unless the people make them. The president has already stated on live TV he takes no responsibility for any of this. Though the virus is not his fault, the failure to react in a responsible and timely way is a buck that must stop there in the Oval Office.

Click your heels, Dorothy. We’re zeroing back in on Kansas.

On the face of it, HCR 5025 is simply a mechanism for the legislative body to check and balance the executive branch in Kansas when the #KSLEG is not in session. But if you look at what 5025 has been used for you can see it is a buffet of wedge issues. The first right it protects is the Second Amendment. The next right it protects is property ownership. And the thorny portion at the end of 5025 that claims to allow this body of the Legislative Coordinating Council the supposed authority to revoke the Governor’s power to issue Executive Orders which is in fact covered in the Kansas Constitution has been used to posture as protecting religious freedom in the First Amendment.

So the LCC, made up of five republicans and two democrats, has passed a resolution 5-2 drawing attention to three of the GOP’s core platform wedge darlings; Guns, Property, and Religion. Is it a coincidence this was passed in the week leading up to Easter Sunday? Who benefits from beating their chest over this? Who’s seeking higher office in November?
The questions Covid-19 produces will be endless but for any productive conversation they must be asked. What did we think we had as a country? What do we actually have? What negatives or positives have been unmasked by this pandemic?

As of this writing, Governor Kelly has announced she will seek an answer in the Judicial branch as to the legality of the Legislative Coordinating Council’s authority to revoke Executive Order 20-18 via lawsuit. The argument against the LCC’s action is that they don’t have the authority and that they should have passed a law, not a resolution. If you violate one right in the attempt to protect another right have you protected anything at all?

UPDATE  Saturday, April 11: The Kansas Supreme Court unanimously upholds Governor Kelly’s order.





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