Freedom of Speech, Religion, and Arms

Freedom of speech, religion, and to bear arms

We are a nation of laws, unique in our "government of the people". Yet in recent years our Constitution has been "re-imagined" in ways that threaten the foundations of our society. Freedom of speech and religion, and the right to bear arms are simple enough concepts. Yet all three seem to be on the brink of extinction in America. Let's not allow that to happen.

The first and second amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified on December 15, 1791 along with eight other amendments collectively called the Bill of Rights. They provided freedoms of speech and religion, as well as the right to bear arms. Or so the Founders thought. In recent years, at times they seem to be interpreted by some as merely suggestions. Let’s respect the Founders’ original intent. Here’s what they wrote:

U.S. Constitution (regarding freedoms of speech and religion)
Amendment 1 – Freedoms, Petitions, Assembly

“Congress shall make no law respecting 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.”

Let’s break it down:
a.) Congress is prohibited from establishing a religion. That seems pretty clear.
b.) Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. Except during a pandemic?
c.) Congress cannot “abridge” the freedom of speech. “Abridge” is defined as “to diminish or reduce in scope”. In other words, Congress cannot restrict our freedom of speech even slightly.

Amendment 2 – Bearing and Keeping Arms
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” That seems unambiguous.

What does our State Constitution have to say?

NH State Constitution
[Art.] 2-a [The Bearing of Arms.]
“All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the state. December 1, 1982” Nothing ambiguous there either.

[Art.] 5. [Religious Freedom Recognized.] “Every individual has a natural and inalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience and reason; and no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained , in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession, sentiments, or persuasion; provided he doth not disturb the public peace or disturb others in their religious worship. June 2, 1784” A little wordy but again seems quite clear.

[Art.] 22. [Free Speech; Liberty of the Press.] “Free speech and Liberty of the press are essential to the security of Freedom in a State: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved. June 2, 1784 Amended 1968 to include free speech.” Inviolably. is defined as “never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored.” (Good word!) Once again, our forefathers’ instructions appear to be clear.

Reality check: Freedom of Speech
Despite these clear provisions in our federal and state constitutions, is there any question that our freedom of speech is under attack? Especially on college campuses where conservative speakers have not only been prohibited from speaking at times, but also physically attached. As Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff document in their recent book, “The Coddling of the American Mind”, the old wisdom “sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you” is a relic of the past. Today’s “coddled” students have been told that words that they deem to be offensive can be interpreted as a threat to their physical safety and therefore justify a physical response.

In addition “PC Police” pounce on anyone who uses a term that is considered not sensitive enough to their perceived standards, or a word once used commonly in conversation, without malice, but is now considered grounds for job termination, ostracization, or worse. In a world that not long ago cut some slack when the speaker clearly did not intend to offend anyone, “intent” is now considered irrelevant.

Recently it has gotten far worse. In late August, a group of “peaceful protestors” entered a private restaurant in Washington DC and demanded that every diner “show solidarity” (with the protesters’ alleged cause) “by raising their fist”. The vast majority of diners complied in fear but a woman who refused to comply was surrounded, threatened, berated, and bullied.

Can you imagine being the owner of that private restaurant, finally reopened after the pandemic and just trying to save his business from financial ruin? Can you imagine being one of the diners, out for a relaxing meal at a neighborhood restaurant? Suddenly your life may be in danger unless you “speak” as you are directed, not freely.

What will it take to restore the free speech that is granted by our Constitution and is essential to our ability to remain a “government of the people”? Are we a nation of laws, or have we become a nation of bullies? How many of these freedoms will we lose before we wake up to what is happening?

Reality check: Freedom of Religion
America’s founders had two concerns about religion: 1.) Congress should not establish a religion; and 2.) They wanted each individual to be able to worship God according to their own wishes. Am I missing the part where a Christmas tree should not be allowed on a town common because of “separation of church and state”? Ummm… where is that written in the Constitution? Perhaps a Christmas tree is considered “establishing a religion” by some? Is there a religion that worships Santa Clause or Christmas trees?

More recently the declaration of a state of emergency due to the pandemic seems to have been used as an excuse to temporarily repeal our freedom of religion. Would our founders been concerned that Nevada for example restricted gatherings at churches to 50 or fewer, no matter what the capacity of their buildings while at the same time “allows large groups to assemble in close quarters for unlimited periods at casinos, gyms, restaurants, bars, indoor amusement parks, bowling alleys, water parks, pools, arcades, and more subject only to a 50%-fire-code capacity limit. “ ( ) Don’t these states have it exactly backwards. Where is freedom to gamble mentioned in the Constitution?

What about those who are demanding that any mention of God in public should be silenced. God was even booed during the opening prayer at the 2016 DNC convention: And at this summer’s (2020) DNC convention, delegates omitted the phrase “one nation, under God” when reciting the pledge of allegiance. Are we no longer “one nation under God”? I hope not. If anything, we can use more of God’s influence, not less. I don’t want our government to establish a religion, but I certainly don’t want God banned from our “free speech” lexicon either. I think the Founders had it right. Let’s restore our freedom to worship “according to the dictates of (our) own conscience, and reason.”

Reality Check: Right to Bear Arms
Does this seem like a good time to defund police while we watch angry mobs riot and loot in American cities? Personal property ownership is an important tenet of our free enterprise system. It provides one of the incentives for individuals to `create businesses to offer goods and services wanted and needed by others.

In July an angry mob entered a St. Louis neighborhood and a married couple were able to save their home from looting and destruction thanks to their “right to bear arms”. ( The couple was subsequently arrested for “waving their weapons in a threatening manner” but they successfully protected themselves from injury or death, and protected their property from damage or complete destruction.

Yes, guns can be used by criminals to kill or injure others, just as knives, bombs, ropes, and even vehicles can be used in evil ways, but why is it so rare to hear that “guns save lives”? According to for each life that is taken by a gunshot each year in America, eighty are saved(!) It also says that 200,000 times per year women use a gun to defend against sexual abuse. And 60% of “polled felons say they won’t mess with an armed victim”. The U.S. has the highest gun ownership rate per resident in the world: 88.8 guns per 100 residents. Yet it is ranked 103rd in the world for homicide rate: 4.8 per 100,000 residents compared to 91.6 per 100,000 residents for #1 Honduras or 69.2 for #2 El Salvador. Obviously, it’s not the guns that are the problem, it’s the people who are using guns to kill.


(802) 952-0362
(Don't be concerned about the 802 area code -- I've never lived in Vermont but NH has run out of 603's.)

Don Bettencourt for State Rep


PO Box 608
Sunapee, NH 03782