Last week, I experienced my first visit to a United States National Park. The intention of the visit was to commune with nature–I didn’t realize that the day would end up being fodder for a constitutional rant.
At the visitors area of the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, I witnessed a sign designating the site as a ‘”First Amendment” Expression Area.’ My first reaction was a positive one, pleased that the National Park Service had gone out of its way to remind people of the first amendment. A glance at the fine print, however, revealed a far more dangerous reality.
Through this signage, the NPS is not reminding people of the first amendment’s existence; rather, it’s informing the public that the first amendment applies only in specifically sanctioned areas of the country’s national parks.
The placement of “First Amendment” in quotation marks suggests that the NPS sees said amendment as a cute experiment rather than the unifying and timeless concept that it truly is.
According to the NPS’s website, the agency has the right to decide when and where “First Amendment activities can be accommodated.”
“By law, the National Park Service has established places in parks where First Amendment activities can be accommodated. These areas are visible to the general visiting public without interfering with the public’s enjoyment of the park,” the site reads. “While the National Park Service regulates aspects of the activity to protect park resources, it never regulates the content of the message.”
To paraphrase: America’s National Parks: Come for the trees, stay for the tyranny!
For those needing a refresher, the First Amendment, contained in the Bill of Rights, guarantees that “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.”
In other words, the Amendment doesn’t guarantee these rights to Americans; it prevents Congress from inhibiting them under the assumption that these rights are inherent.
It is for that reason that this otherwise innocuous sign at a National Park has such staggeringly dangerous ramifications: It perpetuates the big government myth that rights–in this case freedom of speech and expression–are granted by government. Sure, you can express yourself, but only in one of the NPS’s designated free speech zones.
If only the United States had a document recognizing Americans’ rights to assembly, free speech and expression. Hang on, this is sounding a bit familiar.
And by the way, the Constitution isn’t valid in prescribed zones–it’s valid anywhere in America. That’s why it is called…erm, the Constitution.
Further review of the NPS’ manifesto reveals that the agency only recognizes certain expressions as being covered under the First Amendment.
Type of Activities that are NOT covered by the First Amendment
- Church picnic or social gathering
- Wedding ceremonies or receptions
- Political fund raiser or other invitation-only political activity or event
- Solicitation of donations
- Community parades, athletics, or sporting events
- Sale of message-bearing clothing, arts and crafts, or similar merchandise
Hopefully the gaggle of sexagenarian church ladies I saw enjoying a picnic didn’t get too rambunctious–I’m sure they didn’t realize that their constitutional rights had been suspended.