Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Freedom of the Press

            The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is a question: Are important protections for the press being eliminated? The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” The Founders obviously considered freedom of the press to be essential to the freedom and independence of Americans. The following statement was given in the Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec, written by the First Continental Congress in 1774:

The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honorable and just modes of conducting affairs.

            The preceding statement was quoted by Eugene Volokh in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. Volokh then continues with his explanation of what the statement means.

The statement mentions some of the values that the Founders saw as inherent in the principle of freedom of the press: the search and attainment of truth, scientific progress, cultural development, the increase of virtue among the people, the holding of government officials to republican values, the strengthening of community, and a check upon self-aggrandizing politicians….

            As I read the above statement, I compared the glorious values of the Founders with the present attitude toward the press. I personally question everything I read in the press because there are so many half-truths, untruths, and outright lies published in an effort to deceive the American public. Volokh’s statement continues:

…But broad statements such as this may tell us less than we would like to know about what “the freedom of the press” meant to the Founders as a rule of law, when the freedom would yield to competing concerns, or whether the freedom prohibited only prior restraints or also subsequent punishments.

            Volokh continues with his explanation of why it is so difficult to know exactly what the Founders meant by freedom of the press. He ends his chapter with the following “free speech rules.”

1. As with all of the Bill of Rights, the free speech/press guarantee restricts only government action, not action by private employers, property owners, householders, churches, universities, and the like.

2. As with most of the Bill of Rights, the free speech/press guarantee applies equally to federal and state governments….

3. The free speech and the free press clauses have been read as proving essentially equal protection to speakers and writers….

4. The free speech/press guarantees also extends to any conduct that is conventionally understood as expressive – for instance, waving a flag, wearing an armband, or burning a flag. It also extends to conduct that is necessary in order to speak effectively, as, for example, using money to buy a public address system or to buy advertising….

5. The free speech/press guarantee extends not just to political speech but also to speech about religion, science, morality, social conditions, and daily life, as well as to art and entertainment….

6. The free speech/press guarantee extends to all viewpoints, good or evil. There is no exception, for instance, for Communism, Nazism, Islamic radicalism, sexist speech, or “hate speech,” whatever that rather vague term may mean….

7. There is, however, a small set of rather narrow exceptions to free speech protection:
            a. Incitement….
            b. False statements of fact….
            c. Obscenity….
            d. Child pornography….
            e. Threats….
            f. Fighting words….
            g. Speech owned by others….
            h. Commercial advertising….

8. All of the preceding rules apply to restrictions that relate to what the speech communicates – to the tendency of the speech to persuade people, to offend them, or make them feel unsafe….

9. Finally, all of the preceding rules apply to restrictions that are imposed by the government acting as sovereign and backed by the threat of jail terms, fines, or civil liability. They also apply to the government controlling what is said in “traditional public fora,” such as parks, streets, sidewalks, or the post office….

            Volokh closes his chapter with his explanation that “Free speech/press law is sometimes called the tax code of constitutional law. The discussion above suggests how complex the law is, but while some of the complexity may be needless, much of it is inevitable. Communication is in many ways the most complicated of human activities, and no simple rule can properly deal with all the different kinds of harms that it can cause – or all the different kinds of harms that restricting communication can cause.”

            I searched for the meaning of “freedom of the press” and wanted to share it with my readers after reading this article. Two professors, one from the University of Utah and one from Brigham Young University “agree President Donald Trump appears to be on the path toward eliminating important protections for the press.” The professors argue that “Trump’s feud with the media is more than just a spectacle or way to deflect attention away from himself. It’s something `darker.’” The article continues:

The evidence is overwhelming that Trump is engaged in something more substantial and more troubling than his predecessors…. Because he appears to be on the path toward eliminating important protections for the press, we think this issue absolutely demands careful public attention.

            Freedom of speech and press – speaker and writer – is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Americans no longer trust the media because it has been corrupted by liberal political figures and their supporters in the publishing and broadcasting business. Now two professors are warning about a “darker” problem coming from President Trump. We are again faced with the question of who to believe. Are the professors among the “never Trump” crowd who are trying to destroy the President, or do they have a real concern? Once more, Americans are left on our own to discern what the truth is. This is what happens when the media becomes corrupted. However, we must protect our freedom of speech/press becomes it concerns each and every American in our daily lives.

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