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Ann Coulter, the Constitution and Disability Rights

Bruce Darling, Organizer with ADAPT

I have found something that I agree with Ann Coulter about. When talking about a recent protest which caused her not to speak at UC Berkeley, Coulter pointed out something that is worth repeating.

“There is no asterisk on the first amendment.”

As a gay and disabled man, a social progressive, and a pretty radical community organizer, my jaw dropped a little as I found myself thinking, she’s totally right. I agree with Ann Coulter. The First Amendment protects her right to speak, even to say things that I absolutely disagree with. Even to say things that are – as far as I am concerned – totally wrong and utterly offensive.

I’d take it even farther, though. The Constitution, through its Bill of Rights and some of the later Amendments, protects our rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to exercise our chosen religion (or none at all). It protects us from the Government interfering with our right to live, our liberty, and our property without due process of law, and frankly, there isn’t an asterisk on ANY of these rights that says “unless you are offensive” or “unless we decide your rights are too expensive to protect” or “unless you are disabled, in which case you don’t deserve to live without Government interference.” There’s no asterisk to be found in the whole Constitution.

In practical terms, however, disabled people experience Government interference with our lives and liberty all the time. The Federal Government, in partnership with the States, operates Medicaid, a program which provides healthcare services that keep disabled people alive and provides the long term services and supports needed to live our lives. Unfortunately, the way it operates Medicaid is often to force disabled people to choose between unwanted placement in an expensive institution on the one hand and going without needed services and trying to live like the rest of Americans on the other. It comes down to “Be institutionalized or die,” and that’s no choice.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Millions of disabled people who are forced into institutions, at great cost to Medicaid, could live and receive services in the community. We could live like the rest of Americans, in the way the Constitution guarantees: how we decide, not how the Medicaid system or states decide for us. Our liberty is just as protected by the Constitution as every other American’s is. There’s no asterisk saying “unless you’re disabled,” so no American should be denied their liberty because their disabled. That’s why I am working so hard to advance the Disability Integration Act (S.910), legislation that would end unwarranted and unwanted institutionalization.
Based on her comments, conservative social and political commentator Ann Coulter would seem to agree. As she pointed out, the founding fathers didn’t include an asterisk. Not anywhere in the Constitution.

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