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.
I make no pretense to having any sort of background or training in legal matters. In fact, I know as much as can be absorbed through cultural osmosis, really. What I can do is read, however, and I like to think that I’m fairly good at it. Not amazing, not wonderful, but better than average. And from that above average ability, when it comes to deciphering text, comes the opinion that things mean what they say, and that those things are in a state of isolation from the writers of the text (See also: death of the author). So, lets take a look at the First Amendment on a piece-by-piece basis.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”
How this reads, once again taking every word to mean what it means without interpretation and the opinion of the writers into any consideration, is that the government will not give any sort of respect towards any sort of religious body that would then go on to establish that religion in the American mind. So, nothing can go from the government to any sort of religious body or activity.
“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
The government cannot deprive the free exercise of religion. This is pretty simple and straight-forward, but a lot has been made out of it, so I’ll explain a little further since it’s especially germane to this conversation.
The government is not taking away anyone’s rights by not giving any one religion a place of privilege. By giving your religion the same treatment, that is to say that they keep their hands off of and out of said religion, as every other one, it gives all religions the same amount of respect, which is to say that it gives no religion any respect. At least, in an ideal world, it doesn’t. A lot of people get hung up on this because they consider their religion to be the only true religion, which should tell you a lot right there. If all religions state that their religion is the one true religion, then who is right? Simply stated: everyone thinks that their religion is the one true religion, so no religion deserves privilege over any other religion.
“or abridging the freedom of speech”
There seems to be no lack of misunderstanding of just what this means. Just read the text, and then understand that it means what it says: that the government cannot do anything to prohibit free speech. For emphasis: the GOVERNMENT cannot abridge anyone free speech. The government. The first amendment does not say anything about your freedom of speech, or lack thereof, when it comes to other matters. That being, you are not free to say whatever you want to say and then be free from consequences. Nothing is said inside of a vacuum, and the things that you say and do have consequences. So, if you say something that I don’t like, then I am free to say that I don’t like what you say, and if you have a business and you say things that I don’t like, then I won’t patronize your business.
So, because the government has a strict hands off approach to religion and religious speech, it cannot put a limit on what your religion says. However, if what your religion has to say is offensive to the general population, and because your religion is given no privilege over any other, then the general population is perfectly within their rights to say that they don’t want to hear what you have to say. Is that intolerant? It might be, considering how you understand the term. I don’t think it’s any more intolerant to not want someone who is virulently opposed to homosexuality to speak at an inauguration than it would be to someone else when they don’t want a member from the KKK to speak at an inauguration, whether or not the speaker is going to talk about their opinions towards race, religion or sexual orientation. You’d no more see a black or a white supremacist given a podium from which to speak by the American government than you’d see a heterosexual supremacist.
“or of the press”
This one’s pretty easy: the government cannot abridge the right of free speech from the press. Once again, the GOVERNMENT cannot abridge the right of free speech from the press. Business can, and consumers can also, by choosing to not give money to organizations that say things that the consumers disagree with.
“or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”
The government cannot prevent people from assembling, peaceably. Whether they follow this part of the First Amendment is an area of discussion for another day, however. ( http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/26/us/fbi-occupy/index.html )
“and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The government cannot prevent people from peaceably assembling to protest government policy.
All of this is very straightforward, so it’s a shock to see that there are so many people out there who have a huge lack of understanding towards what the First Amendment says and what it doesn’t say.
So, no. It is not an abridgement of First Amendment rights to prevent pastor Giglio from speaking at the inauguration. Whether it’s a violation of the First Amendment that we even HAVE an invocation, however…