Thoughts on Freedom of Assembly

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.

Ammendment 1

Through experiences of the past months, I am seeing that there is something profoundly valuable about being able to assemble as a group of people with a common purpose. Though business can and has been conducted remotely, there are added benefits to gathering together–feelings of unity, bonds, and synergy, that are lacking in the virtual world.

I remember back some decades to my time as a social worker. I observed that dysfunctional, and especially abusive families, were often isolated. This is largely due to efforts by abusers to maintain power and control. There are the obvious dangers of a lack of a support system or the ability to seek help, but there is another less obvious danger–isolation.

Isolation deprives us of needed reality checks. It is the casual observations and exchanges with others that give us our sense of what is normal. They give us opportunities to question our perceptions when they are different from others. We see common feelings and ideas and relate to shared experiences. Without these outside interactions, abused spouses and children come to see their restricted, abusive world as normal. Fears of outside dangers become magnified when interpreted only through the abuser.

After months now of social isolation and the absence of many of our routine group activities, the few and rather small gatherings of late have given me an unexpected emotional boost, almost like a cold drink after a long hot day makes me realize how thirsty I was. It feels wonderful! It brings back a feeling of normal. I suddenly have again a chance to feel validation for my thoughts and feelings through hearing others share theirs, with emotion conveyed as it only can be in person. An emoji can never convey what a smile, slightly raised eyebrow, or the hint of a tear in an eye can.

Humans are social beings. We need to be with each other. This is how it is supposed to be. There is great wisdom in the Founders recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of citizens to assemble for various peaceful purposes. Probably the most important purpose being to gather for the free exercise of religion. My soul is starved for that interaction now.

Division and fears are magnified when we are kept apart. Through isolation, governments can too easily exercise excessive power and control and in the process deprive us of those experiences which reinforce our shared humanity and foster unity. I hope this is a lesson from this experience that we do not forget.

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