Word Wars

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.” 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” 10th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

It is hard to believe that nearly two hundred and twenty years after the 1st Amendment to the Constitution was adopted some are still discussing it’s meaning. It is also hard to believe that some are tossing the word “sedition” around to describe those exercising their 1st Amendment rights by speaking out in opposition to the current administration and it’s policies.

It is ironic that it is a print journalist suggesting that someone is guilty of sedition. Many prominent newspaper editors, including Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, were arrested in 1800 on charges of violating the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798. Thomas Jefferson along with James Madison believed the Sedition Act violated the 1st and 10th Amendments to the Constitution and when Jefferson was elected president in 1800 he immediately pardoned all of those convicted of crimes under the Sedition Act.

Sedition reared it’s ugly head again in 1918 under President Woodrow Wilson. As a series of amendments to the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act of 1918 made it a crime to use “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the government, the flag, or the military. The Sedition Act extended the provisions of the Espionage Act and in effect made it a crime for anyone to speak out against the government or it’s policies. There were more than one thousand convictions under the Espionage Act before it was repealed in 1920.

Sedition, like it’s cousin treason, is not a word that should be used lightly or it’s definition hastily scribbled unto a napkin to make a point on a talk show. One would think that a journalist of some repute would know better. One day, Joe, the shoe will be on the other foot. -Lew-


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