Monday, August 28, 2006

The Bill of Rights in Action

I was watching NBC news tonight, and a couple of stories caught my eye. First of all, John Mark Karr, who recently confessed to the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey, has been released. This story is interesting as it highlights one of the reasons behind the Fifth Amendment, which prevents people from being able to testify against themselves.

This also means that an admission of guilt alone is not sufficient grounds to convict someone. It's greatly helpful for the police in solving a case, and can count as extremely strong evidence, but it must be supported. In this case, the admission was completely unsupported. Karr's DNA doesn't match that found at the scene of the crime, his story doesn't fit the known events, and there's no evidence establishing him at or near the scene. In this case, the Fifth Amendment serves to prevent us from jailing an innocent (if deluded) man.

Interestingly, this wasn't the initial reason for the Fifth Amendment. That reason was to prevent forced confessions, such as the type coerced in the witch hunts of infamy.

Now, for a use of the Bill I like a bit less. In this case, it's the exercise of First Amenment rights to free speech and freedom of the press. Not long after the Karr story, the news went back to their main thread of the night, looking back at the Katrina disaster. One of their guests was a man who'd written a book about the inherent racism of the situation with all the blacks living in poverty. Though I don't agree that there was any active racism involved, that's not the point I had a problem with.

The problem started when he went on to how important religion was to all of these people (firstly, it was a gross generalization and assumption). And then he said something that I really hate, and yet hear all the time: That if it weren't for their faith, they'd be lost and crazy, resorting to murder and suicide. While I respect his right to say this and NBC's right to show the story, I don't respect them for it. I'm willing to bet they wouldn't let me on the show to make a counterpoint, mentioning all of the actual murders made in the name of religion as opposed to the hypothetical murders made by hypothetical atheists.

To a religious person, I can see how a comment like that could get by. But to an atheist, it's a vicious slur. How do you think they would like it if I said that atheism is the only thing keeping many people from committing murder (though granted, I actually have evidence to support that statement). Either way, it's the First Amendment that allows me to say all this now and speak back at their slurs.

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