Commentary

I'm Bringing Free Speech Back

Benjamin Franklin once wrote “Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

This is a message that I feel seems to have fallen out of favor these days. Assaults against First Amendment rights range from high-level efforts from the National Security Agency to the school administration at Woodland Junior-Senior High School in Woodburn, Indiana who fired Amy Sorrell, the newspaper adviser, for allowing a student to publish an article defending homosexual rights. What is the press (not to mention the media world in general) without free speech?

I find these attacks even more alarming in light of a study from J-Ideas, (a Ball State organization created to foster excellence in high school journalism) that indicate student apathy and ignorance of their first amendment rights, including freedom of the press, have reached alarming levels. The J-Ideas study on the “Future of the First Amendment” revealed that 33% of high school students believe the First Amendment goes too far, 50% believe that the government can censor the internet and only 27% report that they even think about the first amendment.

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As someone who is studying to be a teacher, I find this to be a bleak picture of the First Amendment and I think a solution needs to come from the education level. J-Ideas is doing some amazing stuff - they have released a variety of educational tools for teachers who still believe that First Amendment education is a great priority. These tools include coaching sheets for aspiring journalists and an impressive DVD full of curriculum aids for teachers including the history and background on the First Amendment, a panel discussion with constitutional experts, discussion questions of the Bill of rights and much more.

This is a noble cause but it really is dependent on teachers like myself to embrace the importance of a free press, and freedom of speech for the preservation of Democracy. The historical proof exists to show that a Democracy built without constitutional principles like a Bill of Rights and the rule of law are doomed to a quick and often bloody death whether it is the French Revolution, or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

While the battle for student minds can be fought in the schools, mass media outlets can also play an important role in spreading the true importance of constitutional freedoms in this country. The opposing viewpoint which plays on the fears of the public is getting a great deal of press, but it is all too rare to hear the potent arguments of free speech advocates on the air today. During the Red Scare it was Edward R. Murrow who spoke up, and during the 1960’s it was radical journalist I.F. Stone, but today major media outlets are concentrated in the hands of very few. Even in the 1960’s there were a large number of family owned newspapers, and media outlets were interested in ratings not the welfare of the massive business organizations that they are a part of like the Time Warner or Disney corporation.

Today we need new outlets of expression, or we need to make better use of existing outlets as our media world changes.

1 comment about "I'm Bringing Free Speech Back".
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  1. Leonard Novick, August 28, 2007 at 2:22 a.m.

    Daniel,

    Excellent article highlighting a very serious problem. I wonder if the 'apathy and ignorance' of young people regarding first amendment rights has deteriorated under the Bush administration or is this a problem that even predates the constitutional assaults we have had the last 6 years?

    In any case, it is heartening to see young people like yourself doing what you can to create a better future. Keep up the good work.

    Lennybruce www.thru-other-eyes.com

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