Moral Dilemma of the First Amendment

The defenders of Wikileaks have quoted the First Amendment as the centrepiece of their argument to justify the legality of Assange’s actions. The First Amendment has been bandied about quite liberally in the past few months to justify and support the views and actions on some much-debated issues.  

The First Amendment is the cornerstone of the American way of life, like apple pie, blue jeans and motherhood (statements). It goes as following: “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.

Though the First Amendment always triumphs legally, it runs up against the morality of the actions and their repercussions.

 Wikileaks / Assange

  • Winston Churchill on being asked to differentiate between revelation of a state secret and a politically awkward affair replied: “The first was a danger to the country, the second a nuisance to the government”.
  • Most of diplomacy IS cloak-and dagger. Wikileaks has laid bare all the magician’s tricks. Negotiations cannot be done by revealing all of one’s cards at the first sitting.
  • Effectively, Wikileaks might have also endangered agents and diplomatic staff on the ground by disclosing their details & their affiliations.
  • The release of papers categorised as Confidential and Sensitive have been aired publically – rendering the National Security Act as useful as a toilet paper. Sensitive databases and networks of government and their defence arms are protected from ordinary public for this reason – otherwise hackers would normally be given a red-carpet treatment.
  • There is a marked difference between the “right to know” and a “need to know”. Whether a journalist has the right to reveal state secrets to expose state duplicity is a debatable question. But it is outright dangerous to dump 5,000 documents on the net for the whole wide world to see.
  • Though this sounds elitist, but the common man cannot fully understand the meanings and implications of all that has been downloaded on Wikileaks – they can be led by their noses by interested parties. Humphrey Appleby put it very succinctly: “The people are ignorant and misguided.”

 Ground Zero Mosque

  • Though the law fully agrees with the right to practice their religion wherever they want, the proponents of the Mosque are losing the battle of emotions and sentiments – the symbol of 9/11 and the many lives lost there are a poignant force too strong to counter.
  • The Mosque builders need to realise though the First Amendment protects their right to build the mosque any where they desire, the moral arguments outweigh the legal arguments. They will win great goodwill and support if they offer themselves to change location and reach for a compromise.
  • I will however add that the opponents to the Mosque can’t point fingers to the Saudi Arabia and similar theocracy-based countries asking why they can’t allow churches. USA is a multi-faith country and stands by the right to practice & preach one’s religion. The US is the Promised Land – and remains so because it practices what it preaches. The others are not and don’t profess so.

Koran burning Pastor in Florida

Strangely and sadly, burning religious texts CAN be protected by the First Amendment.

  • But it is blatant hatred and ignorance. Which religious lesson of Dove World Outreach Center supports such a treatment of another person’s religion? No wonder the pastor’s flock deserted him.
  • The religion of Islam is not at fault. Its many followers are not at fault. A small percentage of followers with a skewed interpretation of the religion are at fault. One can’t tar the whole community with the same brush.
  • Burn the bra. Burn the flag (which I still have an issue with). Don’t burn the Koran.

Even though India doesn’t have the First Amendment, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla are using the veil of journalistic freedom and process to cower behind, while it is amply clear that they had crossed the invisible line of morality.

 Voltaire once exclaimed:”I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it”. He should have further qualified it by adding”…as long as you are morally right to say it”.


Am I protected by the First Amendment in producing this bilge? Or am I another example of my own argument?

Are there other recent instances where the freedom of expression counters morality?


About rp71

A Cynic's Eye View: This is my tongue-in-cheek, one-eyebrow-raised, cynical view of the world of politics & the world of sports (and intriguing intersection of the two) by way of written posts and cartoons. All views expressed are my own (nobody else wants them). Follow me by subscribing here or on twitter @rp_71 Looking forward to the bouquets and brickbats in the comments section Cynics of the world, unite. We have nothing to lose, but our disdains…
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7 Responses to Moral Dilemma of the First Amendment

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