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Opinion Editorial

In his State of the Union speech to Congress, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

Plenty of people were happy about this. The speech was applauded by pundits who have given up on Congress and believe the only way to move forward is by strengthening the presidency. Our political system, they say, is weighed down by too many interest groups, too many checks and balances, and too few avenues for circumventing a Congress that is both polarized and highly susceptible to the wishes of its donors. The present government is paralyzed, they believe. A stronger presidency would get Washington moving again.

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Living in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign. That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Unfortunately, through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials. In fact, if the following court rulings are anything to go by, the First Amendment has, for all intents and purposes, become an exercise in futility.

On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 ruling, held that anti-nuclear activist John Denis Apel could be prosecuted for staging a protest on a public road at an Air Force base, free speech claims notwithstanding, because the public road is technically government property.

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One of the cool things about being self-employed is that you are free to violate minimum wage laws. That was something my wife and I did regularly during the 13 years we owned and operated our business. It wasn't the plan but it often worked out that way.

Except for the self-employed and my waitstaff friends out there, most of you don't have that legal right to offer your services below the government mandated wage. For the longest time, this wasn't much of an issue since most wages were as high or higher than the official rate. When I started working as a teenager at a buck ninety an hour, I thought that was good money compared to the crummy minimum wage of $1.65.

There are proposals to raise the minimum wage from a crummy $7.25 to a crummy $10.10 an hour. Unfortunately, both numbers are hardly insignificant to many employers. When operating on a thin and volatile profit margin, it doesn't take much to go under. Once under, unless the business is “too big to fail,” a business stays under, and so ends contributions to the economy and the tax base. It's usually easier for a bigger company to adjust to added costs than it is the small-time operator. “Mom and Pop” business closings typically aren't headline news.

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Unfortunately, this ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is demonstrative of the way injustice predominates our courts today.

Judge Wynn, speaking for the court’s decision, argued the First Amendment prohibits “restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some and not by others … In this case, North Carolina seeks to do just that: privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue – reproductive choice – while silencing opposing views.”

Really? Where in the First Amendment does it mandate every viewpoint be allowed equal representation? If this is really the case, why is religious expression so stringently regulated and even disallowed in the schools? Why can’t Intelligent Design or Creationism be taught on human origins in our public schools? Why can’t we hang the Ten Commandments in our nation’s courtrooms? The pattern of the courts for several decades now has been to silence opposing viewpoints if those views don’t line-up with the prevailing liberal ideology of the day.

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