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The First Amendment - no exceptions and no compromise

By Scott Tibbs, April 8, 2009

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. -- The First Amendment

A letter to the editor on Sunday argued that "the only guaranteed right of the press is to report the news. The right to pass judgment on public opinion for publication is not a guaranteed right of the press." This is simply wrong and displays a complete ignorance of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment does not create separate categories for freedom of the press based on whether the article is opinion or straight news reporting. The First Amendment very clearly states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." The 14th Amendment applies that to the states.

I believe it is a massive failure of the government school system that so any people are ignorant of what the First Amendment says. The text is not complicated. Instead, the language is easy for any literate person (except perhaps John McCain) to understand. Yet a survey by the First Amendment Center in 2007 fount that only "56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups", that 34% "think the press has too much freedom" and 25% agreed with the statement that "the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees." While that was an improvement over 2002, it is still frightening that so many Americans would give up a fundamental liberty for a perceived increase in security.

What a change since this nation fought a war to win independence from the British Empire. The men who valued liberty more than life would be very disappointed to see many of the sheep that do not value the freedom that so many American soldiers have spilled blood to protect. What many people do not understand is how important freedom of speech is to protecting all of our freedoms by holding elected officials accountable for what they do. It is a sad irony that at a time where more information is available at the click of a mouse than ever before, more and more people are ignorant about the founding documents of this country.

What those who embrace censorship need to learn is that we have far more to fear from a government that silences voices and opinions deemed "offensive" than we do from the voices and opinions themselves. That's why the First Amendment is written as a limitation on government rather than an enumeration of rights the Founders assumed we already have at birth. As bad as September 11 was, most Americans were able to resume their lives without much interruption that same week. If a real crisis were to hit, will we give up our freedom so easily? Sadly, far too many Americans are willing to do just that.