By Jacob G. Hornberger
You would think that by the time a person becomes the Director of the CIA, he would have a correct understanding of the Constitution, which is the founding document of the federal government, which the CIA is part of. This should be especially true when the CIA Director is a former member of Congress, a graduate of West Point, and the holder of a law degree from Harvard.
Embarrassingly, such is not the case with CIA Director and former U.S. Congressman Mike Pompeo. In a speech delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Pompeo demonstrated a woeful lack of understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment.
Referring to his belief that WikiLeaks official Julian Assange, who is a citizen of Australia, should be indicted and prosecuted by the U.S. government for revealing secrets of the U.S. national-security establishment, Pompeo stated:
Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen.
That is quite an amazing statement. It’s also a misleading and fallacious one.
What Pompeo obviously doesn’t get is that no one, including American citizens, has First Amendment freedoms. There’s a simple reason for that: Freedoms don’t come from the First Amendment. Or to put it another way, the First Amendment doesn’t give anyone, including Americans, any freedoms at all.
People’s freedoms also don’t come from the Constitution. They don’t come from the federal government. They don’t come from the troops, the CIA, or the NSA either.
Freedom comes from nature and from God. Even if the Constitution had never been approved by the American people — that is, even if the federal government had never been called into existence — people would still have their fundamental, natural,God-given rights. That’s because freedom and other natural, God-given rights preexist government and, therefore, exist independently of government.
Thomas Jefferson makes this point clear in the Declaration of Independence when he points out that people are endowed with unalienable rights by nature and God, not by government or by some document that calls government into existence.
There is something else that is important to note here: As Jefferson points out, everyone, not just American citizens, is endowed with these natural, God-given rights, including life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. That includes people who are citizens of other countries. Citizenship has nothing to do rights that are vested in everyone by nature and God.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, that includes Julian Assange. His freedom does not come from the Constitution or the First Amendment or by the Australian government. His freedom comes from the same source that your freedom and my freedom come from — from nature and from God.
So, what is the purpose of government? Jefferson makes it clear: Government’s job is to protect the exercise of natural or God-given rights, including liberty.
What about the First Amendment? If its purpose is not to give people rights, including freedom, what is its purpose?
The purpose of the First Amendment, in part, is to protect the preexisting, natural, God-given freedom of people to publish whatever they want, including the dark, illegal, illicit, immoral, and evil secrets of the federal government, including such dark-side, totalitarian-like nefarious activities as assassination, murder, disappearances, coups, torture, abuse, partnerships with dictators, rendition, kidnapping, illegal surveillance, rendition, destruction of incriminatory evidence, illegal invasions and wars of aggression, and secret prison facilities.
That’s what Pompeo and others of his ilk just don’t get: The purpose of the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is to protect people from federal officials like him — officials who are hell-bent on destroying our lives, freedom, and prosperity, and well-being, all in the name of “keeping us safe” or protecting “national security.”
Our ancestors were wise people. They knew that the federal government would inevitably attract people like Pompeo. That’s why the Constitution brought into existence a government of extremely limited powers rather than a general power that would enable federal officials like Pompeo to just do the “right” thing.
That’s also why the Constitution didn’t empower the federal government to have a CIA, NSA, and standing army. Our ancestors knew that a national-security establishment would inevitably end up destroying people’s freedom in the name of “keeping them safe” and that it would inevitably try to punish people for publicizing and opposing its destruction of liberty.
That’s why our ancestors demanded the enactment of the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights as a condition for approving the Constitution. They wanted to protect people’s fundamental rights and liberties from federal officials like Pompeo, who they knew would be the biggest threats to people’s fundamental, natural, God-given rights and freedoms.
This article was originally published at The Future of Freedom Foundation.