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home : opinions : commentary September 15, 2014

1/9/2013 8:01:00 AM
This year, let's resolve to preserve, use, celebrate our core freedoms
By Gene Policinski
First Amendment Center

New-year resolutions often have the real-world substance and life expectancy of steam vapor. But then there are resolutions that stick.

Think of the five freedoms of the First Amendment as a resolution by the nation's Founders, setting out the goals of religious freedom, freedoms of speech and press, and rights to assemble freely and petition the government for change. Goals for a new nation and at the same time the workings of a free society.

Of course, the Founders set out their promises of freedom of expression and faith not just for a new year but for a new era, with no expiration date. Their resolution was binding on succeeding generations.

So how are we doing?

In the wake of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn. came calls for "common-sense media control" and even outright government censorship of breaking-news reports.

After a New York state newspaper published the names and addresses of gun-permit holders in several counties, not only were angry comments aimed at the editors, but a Maryland legislator also proposed banning publication of the "private" information of who holds gun permits in his state.

Until news media and public-accountability groups mounted a successful challenge, Congress was considering legislation to greatly restrict which bureaucrats could speak with the public or journalists about work even remotely connected to national security.

We've generally come to our First Amendment senses after flirting with such limits and controls.

Congress as editor? The specter of government "media control" raises questions not just of constitutionality but also of practicality. Who makes the final decision on what the "one, true story" is? How would government stop publication of "wrong" facts immediately after an event without a massive bureaucracy that would, at the very least, be far too slow to deal with any kind of breaking news? Moreover, do we want government to produce a single set of approved facts?

Our Founders believed the cure for speech you don't like is more speech, not less - and in each generation, the marketplace of ideas will have a few stalls operated by the wildly unpopular.

Finally, trying to close off public and press access to government officials to stem leaks hasn't worked in the past - and with the Internet, there's even less reason to believe it would work today. So let's keep faith with the Founders and resolve to step into the New Year with a goal of preserving, using and celebrating our core freedoms.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013
Article comment by: Yukon Jack

Already an address listed by thast newspaper has been burglarized specifically in an attempt to get the guns. Fortunately the burglars were caught in the act and were unseccessful.

Fankly I hope the homeowner sues and ends up owning a newspaper!

If we really want to preserve our core freedoms, we need to understand that some of them are inherently dangerous. Free speech can incite, but I would not do away with it. An armed populace can be dangerous to itself. But more importantly it can be a deterrent to those who would govern without our consent.

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Article comment by: Dana Hoyer

@Gene Policinski there are so many things wrong with what you suggested in this so called article i dont even know where to begin but i will say one thing. The general public does not have the right to know the intimate details of every gun owner out there regardless of freedom of press and freedom of speech that is an invasion of privacy on many levels and is wrong regardless of the leftist view. I agree our bill of rights needs to be preserved however offering the private home address of gun owners is not on the list of freedoms it is a privacy violation. The newspaper just put out there the private home addresses for any lunatic whether they are looking to steal guns or looking to harass the owner of those guns. You sir are wrong on this one.

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