Regarding the first rule and the First Amendment

Regarding the first rule and the First Amendment September 20, 2012

Try not to be an asshole.

That’s always the first rule. That’s Rule No. 1. No matter what the topic, no matter how specific or how general, Rule No. 1 is always Rule No. 1.

This Austin, Texas, homeowner is, and should be, protected by the First Amendment. But no force on earth can protect him from the consequences of violating Rule No. 1.

It comes first not because it’s the most important, necessarily, but because unless we hear and heed Rule No. 1, we’ll probably never find out what any of the other rules are. No one will want to talk to us long enough to tell us.

Rule No. 1 is not, cannot and should not be legally enforceable. It should always be a rule, but it should never be a law. No state should ever attempt to compel or coerce us to obey Rule No. 1.

If we break this rule, then, we should never be imprisoned or fined. There should never be legal consequences for violating Rule No. 1. But there will always be consequences — consequences that are far more immediate and, in some ways, even worse than any legal sanction. The price we will pay if we break Rule No. 1 is that we will become assholes.

That’s a fitting punishment. Probably some kind of tautology, actually. But it’s also a brutally harsh and inescapable punishment. Don’t let this happen to you. Rule No. 1 is important.

Now, there seems to be some confusion about the relationship between the first rule and the First Amendment. Let’s address that.

The First Amendment is a sacred thing. That’s the part of the U.S. Constitution that acknowledges that we humans have the undeniable right to freedom of speech and to freedom of conscience and that no American laws may ever pretend otherwise.

These are vital rights and vital freedoms. If the laws of any country do not recognize and enshrine such freedoms, then that country doesn’t really have either freedom or law. People all over the world have marched and fought and died to assert and defend these freedoms, and they were right to do so.

And if those freedoms are to mean anything — if they are to be real — then they must also mean that we are free to break Rule No. 1. Freedom of speech and freedom of conscience mean that we all have, and deserve, and are endowed by our Creator with the inalienable and self-evident right to be assholes. No government, no king, no state, and no just law can ever deny us that right.

But while we are and must be free to violate Rule No. 1, this freedom, alas, does not protect us from the automatic and inexorable penalty that the rule itself imposes on all who freely violate it. We are free to be assholes. But we can never be free to do so without thereby making ourselves assholes.

The First Amendment articulates sacred principles on which we should never compromise. Yet the First Amendment leaves the first rule unchanged. Try not to be an asshole.

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