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Free speech — now — forever

By Staff | Nov 1, 2017

To the editor:

The first ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (Bill of Rights) were ratified effective Dec. 15, 1791. The First Amendment reads: “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.”

One of the first significant Supreme Court cases interpreting the freedom of the press was Near v. Minnesota (1931). The Court overturned a restraining order that had prohibited the printing of a rather scandalous and low-circulation publication called the Saturday Press. The newspaper made a series of unsubstantiated allegations about officials and public figures in the Twin Cities. Additionally, Saturday Press editor Jay Near wrote articles that were anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and racist.

As distasteful and offensive as the newspaper was, the Court said it was protected by the First Amendment: “It has been generally, if not universally considered that it is the chief purpose of the [freedom of the press] to prevent previous restraints upon publication.” In this case the Court also ruled that this First Amendment right protects the media against infringement by state governments as much as it does against the federal government.

In this regard, it might be best to return to the words of the “father” of the First Amendment, James Madison, who in 1798 stated that “some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything; and in no instance is this more, true than in that of the pressit is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding proper fruits.”

This response was given by Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when queried as he left Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the final day of deliberation. A lady asked Dr. Ben Franklin, “Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy? “A republic,” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.”

You might ask, “Why did they make the FIRST AMENDMENT protection of Freedom of Speech?” I think it was because we had been fighting for that right since the Magna Carta (Great Charter 1215). It, to me, is the most important Amendment. The Second Amendment only gives teeth to the First Amendment.

It is every citizen’s responsibility to protect the freedoms and liberties provided us by our forefather’s Constitution. In the life of our Republic (228 years) there have been only 27 Amendments to the Constitution. The first ten of these are the Bill of Rights.

Jon Larsen Shudlick

Fort Myers