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Our First Amendment Right;
Speaking Responsibly

By Jeffry Boatright


The Bill of Rights, which consists of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, was carefully constructed to insure our liberties are not infringed upon. These amendments were designed to protect us from government, and in some cases, from one another.


Perhaps the most complex amendment of all is the First Amendment, which the Framers deemed so important that it was the first amendment that they added to our Constitution. We refer to the First Amendment in various ways. Some refer to it as the freedom of speech, others simply call it freedom of religion, and yet others define it as freedom of assembly or freedom of the press. It is all of these things.

 As written, the First Amendment states that 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.


We owe our founding fathers a debt of gratitude for having the forethought to amend the Constitution with a Bill of Rights, insuring our individual liberties. Just as importantly, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to responsibly exercise these rights. Sadly, it is the First Amendment that, as a people, we so ardently abuse.


It is plain inconceivable to think that our founders articulated that congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion so that certain religions might harm others, or even invade the rights of others. Instead, those early statesmen recognized that some of the colonists had chosen the wilderness of North America because there was no state religion, and they could freely worship God without the direction of a state church.


It is just as irresponsible to believe that the freedom of assembly justifies rioting and looting, where other citizens are victimized by those who have been, or perceive to have been treated in an unjust manner. Certainly we have the right to voice our opinions, but the First Amendment neither implies nor condones the public, vile use of vulgarity like U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan so proudly spewed last week, soon after being sworn in as a member of the United States Congress. Our nation’s well-educated, intelligent leaders can surely articulate their thoughts without resorting to foul, degrading language. Other public servants are expected to do so.


What about the freedom of the press? Certainly, the freedom of the press was never intended to give media outlets a free pass to conjure malicious lies or misrepresent the truth. It is unfortunate that this freedom has been ferociously abused, just as freedom of religion has been exploited by various groups or individuals, such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson and countless others.


Sadly, we have developed a disdain for the press and even some members of the press have forgotten the worth of pure, unbiased journalism. Responsibility, diligence and reliability have been commandeered by hatred, blame and deception in a segment of society that America needs today more than ever.


Abraham Lincoln has been quoted, in fun, as saying that one cannot believe everything they read on the internet. Of course, we know that Abraham Lincoln never made such a statement, nor is it likely that he could have fathomed such an information network as the world wide web, but we certainly concur with the lighthearted quip.


According to the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of American adults have Facebook accounts. It is doubtless that the internet and social media have propelled many American citizens into some form of online debate. These outlets have given a voice to those who might have otherwise been content in never expressing their individual views or opinions. In some cases, social media has even created political pundits, sports authorities, and experts in other facets of life.


Perhaps the state of our nation has contributed to the political arousal of so many. Or, could it be that the political arousal of so many has contributed to the state of our nation? Reported news inevitably migrates into online discussion, just as it infiltrates coffee shop discussions and water cooler talk. Likewise, popular topics and assertions from social media permeates reported news. Unsurprisingly, mountains are sometimes made of molehills.


While social media is indeed a good outlet to debate views, we must remember Abraham Lincoln’s bogus quote. We cannot believe everything that we read on the internet. Too often, it is embellished and important fragments of a story are omitted. It is sad that reported news in print, radio and television also tend to do the same. Too often, reporting the news is simply a contest to see who reports the story first. This issue is not exclusive to either side of the political spectrum.


While the overall credibility of the press has indeed been compromised, the role of the press, and its necessity, has never diminished. We cannot forget the role that the colonial press played during the American Revolution. Thomas Payne’s publication, Common Sense, epitomized the importance of a free press. Investigative reporting throughout the history of our nation has brought to light many acts of corruption and misconduct that might have otherwise gone unnoticed or perhaps even been safeguarded. Still, the role of the media is not to prosecute, try, and sentence. It is to simply report the news and inform the public. The American taxpayer is more than capable of forming his or her own opinion.

Sure, we all know that bad media exists, and we loathe fake news. However, we cannot judge the good media, which remains essential, based on a few bad apples. We must also hold those who we elect and pay to represent us responsible. They have an obligation to cooperate with the media, and the media has an obligation to respect and cooperate with our public servants.


It is frightening to consider just how much the media is despised and feared by some of our elected officials, as well as department heads and supervisors in government. Occasionally, and certainly not always, a concerted effort is made to keep the reporters at a distance, and even squelch the media, unless there is something to gain from a story. A portion of media dislike can indeed be credited to misrepresentation of facts. Another portion, however, can be attributed to a quest for ambiguity.

We are treading on thin ice as a community and nation when such disconnect evolves between the public sector, the people and the media. All aspects of the First Amendment, like the Second, must be exercised in a responsible manner, but never compromised. Remember, our founding fathers conceived the Bill of Rights to protect us from government, and in some cases, from one another.