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.
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
On Dec. 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights became part of the United States Constitution. A vote of three-quarters of the states is required to change these first 10 or any subsequent amendments to the country's founding document.
On that date 220 years ago, Virginia became the 11th of 14 states to ratify those first 10 amendments. Massachusetts would become the 12th state to ratify a few months later.
So any of us who want to peaceably assemble here in the Bay State can feel confident that both our federal and state governments have approved our assembling — so long as the assemblers grasp the "peaceably" part; violent assembly is not constitutionally protected, nor is trespassing on private property, nor — in case the subject comes up — is blocking ports.
I don't know how "assemble" became "occupy public land for weeks preventing anyone else from assembling there or just walking through without tripping over tents and trash," but despite the confusion or cowardice of some mayors, eventually judges find a dictionary and "occupation" becomes "unlawful assembly." The group called Occupy Boston was finally required to de-occupy last weekend.
As Clueless-Left occupiers were beginning to pack up on Friday, Center-Right activists were peaceably assembling, as they do every month, in a clean, warm and dry Lexington auditorium to celebrate their coalition's 10th anniversary.
Since December 2001, Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) has been hosting tax-limiters, fiscal and social conservatives, libertarians, Second Amendment supporters and other constitutionalists, and supportive politicians and candidates. In the past few years, they were joined by like-minded people who had formed or joined a local tea party. Many of us have a history of opposition to crony capitalism, but unlike the Occupy groups, we don't confuse it with the free enterprise system.
The Center-Right Coalition was created by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington, D.C., and has now spread to locations in almost every state. The Bay State group, run by CLT's Chip Faulkner, is one of the most successful; Norquist sent his congratulations "for a great 10 years of movement building and progress. Massachusetts can be saved and lead the nation ... Onward."
Each month, there is a guest speaker. They come from think tanks, the media, national organizations and like-minded groups in other states. Scott Brown, Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill were guests. Regular meeting members, local politicians or candidates can sign up in advance to get on the agenda for a short presentation.
The latest anniversary celebration's main speaker was WRKO talk show host Todd Feinberg, who with his co-host Tom Finneran wakes many of us weekday mornings between 5:30 and 9 a.m.
A North Shore resident, Feinberg is also host of Mass Factor, a cable interview show that is taped in Danvers. After his humorous and informative presentation at Center-Right, he was asked for his analysis of the Republican candidates. If you want to know what he said, he'll be continuing that analysis throughout the primary season. Tune in at 680 AM.
Last Friday, we heard legislative updates from state Reps. Paul Adams, R-Andover, and Daniel Webster, R-Pembroke.
Adams, who because of redistricting is now running for the Massachusetts Senate, warned that by 2020 the commonwealth will be bankrupted by health care costs. His legislative colleague Webster noted that $1 billion has already been added to the 2012 budget, with more supplemental budgets coming before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
They also talked about the successful effort by Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, to hold up a recent supplemental budget until legislators were told what illegal immigrants cost taxpayers in free health care. The answer: $93 million.
Congressional challengers have attended Center-Right meetings for several years. Bill Hudak, running against Salem's John Tierney in the 6th District, is a familiar face and voice; this month, we heard Tom Weaver, opposing Lowell's Niki Tsongas in the new 3rd.
Jay Dwyer of the Greater Waltham Tea Party honored Dick Hersum, who he is replacing as president of the Association of Massachusetts Republican Committees. Ted Tripp of the North Andover Tea Party, along with Lyndi Lanphear and Christine Morabito of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party, were there to help us say goodbye and thank you to Greater Boston Tea Party leader Christen Varley, who is moving back home to Ohio.
Kris Mineau of the Mass. Family Institute talked about a possible ballot campaign against casino gambling, a subject on which the audience was divided.
Beverly's Michael Gendre usually brings a contingent of activists from the North Shore to Center-Right meetings; this month, it included Abby Bertelson from Hamilton/Wenham, Ed Purtz from Salem and Gail Burke from Beverly.
North Attleboro activists Sue Blais and Howard Bibeault presented Faulkner with a clock for which other attendees chipped in, to honor his determined adherence to time control at all meetings, which end exactly two hours after they begin.
So now the Center-Right Coalition is counting down to Revolution 2012 next November. Happy anniversary to us.
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Barbara Anderson, a Marblehead resident and executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, is a regular contributor to the opinion pages.