I don’t mean to brag, but I took two different classes dedicated to studying the First Amendment during law school. The first, a semester-long meditation on the ideas behind that bill of right, was much like war: long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. I don’t remember the two or three interesting things I learned in the class, but I remember feeling vaguely alive a few times. The second class, a more straightforward survey of the law, didn’t leave a mark on my consciousness the two times I actually went.
I’m a bit of a First Amendment scholar.
I do know that this most holy and invoked of all our rights has been the refuge of not a few rascals and reprobates. The adorable Larry Flynt is always available to slur a few words in support of free speech. And while I hate Illinois Nazis too, they play an outsized role in the history of the First Amendment.
To this estimable list of patriots comes an unabashed piece of redneck trash from the great state of Alabama. May it please the Court and roll damned tide, let’s talk Harvey Updyke, let’s talk sports.
Roll tide, y’all…
UPDYKE ROLLED TIDE, TWO TREES DIED
Harvey Updyke is a lunatic. He’s a diehard Alabama fan. But I repeat myself. Harvey Updyke is a sick man who allegedly sickened two trees back in 2010 and called into a once-regional but now-national radio program to brag about his vandalism. He allegedly poisoned the two trees, oak trees located at something called Toomer’s Corner, because they were venerable traditions of Auburn University fans. We’ll return to the idea of veneration shortly, but let’s quickly note that this whole saga has been an attempt to construct the most absurd story you can and watch as everyone loses their collective sh*t over a couple of f**king trees. I mean, we’re talking prayer vigils and outrage that couldn’t bother to be mustered over, y’know, important non-tree stuff. The reaction to this grade-A buffoonery in service to a marginal state’s sports rivalry is laughable at best and disturbing at worst. It was just sports that motivated Harvey Updyke to allegedly commit tree murder and it is just a couple of trees that motivates so much spilt ink. And here I am still talking about it. Roll tide.
This week, Updyke’s trial was moved out of the Alabama county where Auburn University is located. The ostensible reason is because Updyke would be unable to get a fair trial from the tree-loving emotional wrecks in that county. Fair enough. I’m not entirely sure what War Eagle even means, but it angers me. Screw them. Have the trial in some other impartial, fair-minded county in Alabama. LOL.
But the news of a new venue brought to the surface yet again the immeasurably stupid charge that is being levied against Harvey Updyke. At the end of a blurb on the trial, the Associated Press says this:
Updyke has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to charges that include desecrating a venerable object. He is accused of poisoning the Toomer’s Corner oak trees during Auburn’s run to the national championship in the 2010 football season.
The man stands accused of “desecrating a venerable object.” Well I’ll be.
Even if you’ve taken none First Amendment classes, you may be familiar with the trial of a man named Gregory Johnson, who stood accused of burning a flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. He also was charged with desecrating a venerable object. His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court on the grounds that burning an American flag was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. If I remember correctly, the Arab world cheered the decision by burning an American flag.
Now, there is a world of difference between Gregory Johnson’s behavior and Harvey Updyke’s. For one, a flag can be a useful garment or windbreaker. Trees don’t offer nearly the same utility. They just stand there like they’re better than me. Also, Harvey Updyke’s behavior can’t possibly be given the same deference as the overtly political actions of Gregory Johnson. Or can it? I don’t think there’s anything more political and tribal and important than sports. Harvey Updyke may be claiming mental defect, but the only defect I can see in his box-shaped head is one of loving too much. Loving his team and showing that love by an act so brazenly stupid, no one could possibly mistake the message.
RAP SHEET ROLL CALL
* Utah State linebacker Jake Doughty was arrested on charges of providing alcohol to a minor. In related news, old-fashioned courtship is dead.
* Texas wide receiver Cayleb Jones was arrested and charged with felony assault for breaking the jaw of a UT tennis player. Surely the result of an Eschaton game gone awry.
* And wrapping up our look at the world of college football, Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was indefinitely suspended after being charged with drunk driving. Go you Huskies?