The First Amendment Protects Telemarketers, Too

When telemarketers call my friend Bob at home, he tells them: "I'm a little busy right now, but if you give me your home number I'll call you back later." So far, no takers. He can't understand how anyone has the right to disturb him at home, and applauds the 'do not call list.' Bob and I often disagree, and this time's no different. I can't say I like getting telemarketing calls at home (who does?), but in America laws apply equally to everyone. The 'do not call' list excludes charitable and political (duh!) solicitations; it's that distinction that makes this law reprehensible.

The first amendment to the Constitution says: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Notice it doesn't permit abridging the freedom of speech of magazine subscription salesmen, or adjustable bed marketers, or credit card purveyors. The amendment is pretty damn clear: it applies to everyone. It doesn't provide for two classes of citizens, those who have the right to call you at dinnertime, and those who don't.



Let me say again: I don't especially like being solicited by phone at home. But giving telemarketers fewer rights than charities and politicians is an ugly, slippery slope. (Call it slicing the salami, if you prefer your metaphors with a comestible motif.) Where does it stop? Don't television commercials represent an intrusion into your bedroom late in the evening? Perhaps the 'do not call' people will turn their sights on those, and set up a 'do not air' list. Farfetched? Probably. But why risk opening the door even a tiny crack?

And no, it doesn't matter that 50 million people put their names on the 'do not call' list. Constitutional rights aren't a tug-o'-war. 50 million Americans CAN be wrong, and I'm damn proud of U.S. District Judge Lee R. West in Oklahoma City who has stood up to those 50 million people. He's doing his job upholding our government of laws, not of men.

If you don't want to be disturbed by telemarketers at the dinner hour, don't answer your phone. Or disconnect it. Or get caller ID. There's even a device available at Radio Shack that identifies telemarketers' calls and puts out an "out of order" tone. Really. Or you can even listen politely, tell them you're not interested, and hang up. They're trained to handle that response; after all, they get it on nine out of ten calls they make.

Would I support the 'do not call' law if it applied to everyone, including charities and politicians? Yes I would. But of course, drafting it in that form would hurt politicians, so it wouldn't have a chance of passing.

Voltaire said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Think about that the next time your phone rings at dinnertime.

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