Donald Trump Doesn't Get The First Amendment

by Morgan Brinlee

Over the weekend, it became clear that leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was misinterpreting the First Amendment. On Saturday, Trump claimed his First Amendment rights had been denied to him when his campaign was forced to cancel a rally in Chicago after confrontations between his supporters and protesters turned violent. "The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America," he tweeted. The irony of Trump painting himself as a victim of First Amendment violations is not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

It wasn't long ago that Trump told CNN's Anderson Cooper he loved the Constitution. "I see it as one of the great documents of all time," the real estate mogul had said. "I see the Constitution as set in stone." And yet despite being a big fan of the Constitution, Trump doesn't appear to hold the same regard for the First Amendment. Trump may see the Constitution as set in stone, but statements he's made throughout his presidential campaign imply he might be more flexible when it comes to his own interpretation of the First Amendment. Bustle has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment.

Here's where Trump seems to stand on the First Amendment:

The Free Exercise Of Religion

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In November, shortly after the attacks in Paris, Trump advocated for increased surveillance of mosques such as that seen in New York after Sept. 11, and told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the United States may have "absolutely no choice" but to shut down some mosques.

In a separate interview given to Yahoo! News around the same time, Trump said he was open to requiring all U.S. Muslims to register in a database and carry around special identification that identified them by their faith. His proposals, whether he would actually attempt to follow through with them if elected president or not, still represent prohibiting the free exercise of religion for an entire faith group.

Freedom Of The Press


Certainly Trump has never been a friend to journalists. Years before his career aspirations turned political Trump was slapping journalists and media outlets with lawsuits. In 2006, Trump sued journalist Timothy O'Brien, who wrote a book in which he quoted sources who claimed Trump's net worth was less than the businessman claimed. Trump lost the lawsuit and his appeal.

Since announcing his presidential campaign, press watchdog Columbia Journalism Review reports Trump has "threatened to sue at least two major news outlets for defamation so far" — The Daily Beast and The Washington Post.

In January, Reporters Without Borders alleged Trump had "bullied" members of the press and was behind multiple press restrictions of the presidential election. "Donald Trump has brought his grudge-match with the media to an extremely dangerous level for freedom of the press," the nonprofit claimed.

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Throughout his campaign, journalists have reportedly been physically roughed up and verbally disparaged at his rallies. A video showed TIME photographer Chris Morris being slammed to the ground in a chokehold by a U.S. Secret Service agent at a Trump rally in Radford, Virginia, last month. The Trump campaign and the Secret Service said there was an "incident" and that they were working to figure out the details.

A few weeks later, Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields was allegedly assaulted by a Trump staffer during a press conference in Florida. The Trump campaign denied these allegations, with the staffer in question, Corey Lewandowski, calling Fields an "attention seeker."

And earlier in August, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was physically removed by security from a press conference in Iowa after asking the candidate about his immigration proposals. Trump claimed security acted on its own because Ramos was "screaming like a madman" when he hadn't been called on to ask a question, to which Ramos replied, "I'm just a reporter."

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In late February, Trump told supporters at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, he would "open up our libel laws" to make it easier to sue the media and win if elected president. "When they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money," Trump said, describing his ideal state of libel law. Current libel law — which is repeatedly supported by the Supreme Court — requires the plaintiff to prove reporters or other critics made factually inaccurate statements regarding a public figure with actual malice or a reckless disregard for the truth.

Trump went on further in that same speech to rail against journalists and media organizations that have criticized him, saying they'd "have problems" if he becomes president. His comments were widely interpreted as a "threatening to weaken First Amendment protections," said PBS' News Hour.

The Right To Peaceably Assemble

Over the weekend, Trump pounced on another right guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right to protest. Following his canceled rally in Chicago, Trump told supporters in Kansas City, Missouri, he hoped the protesters at his Chicago rally would "get thrown into a jail," political blog The Hill reported. "I'm going to start pressing charges against all of these people. And then we won't have a problem," Trump said, seeming to forget the right to free speech (aka the right to protest) is perceived as a human right by many international treaties.

While his threat to press charges against the protesters is likely an empty threat, it's a telling comment about the potential danger a Trump presidency could pose to the First Amendment.

This weekend wasn't the first time Trump has claimed his First Amendment rights were being violated. Last June, Trump accused the Spanish-language network Univision of attempting to "suppress" his freedom of speech after it decided not to air his Miss Universe pageant because of what they called "offensive remarks about Mexican immigrants" that Trump had made the week before while announcing his presidential campaign. Univision was offended by comments Trump made alleging Mexico sent "rapists," criminals, and drug dealers over the border into America.

In Trump's mind, it appears only his First Amendment rights matter. The absurdity of him bemoaning the violation of his freedom of speech while insisting even peaceful protesters be removed from rallies should not go unnoticed. Trump's success in this presidential primary is due not to the depth of legislative experience, his political prowess, or his plans to foster jobs and economic growth, strengthen national security, or navigate complicated foreign policy because he has none of these things.

His campaign's success is instead, largely built on his ability to distract. Trump tap dances around issues with ease, saying nothing at all while dropping one outrageous statement after another. But we must not become distracted on this point. Trump just might be the worst thing to happen to the First Amendment in years.

Image: Giphy