Bleeding the Black Ink

Are we losing faith in the First Amendment?

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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."

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is more than 200 years old and, according to a recent survey conducted by the Freedom Forum, some Americans believe it may be outdated.

The survey, conducted over the summer of this year, looked at issues such as:

  • Do Americans know the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment?
  • Are Americans generally satisfied with the current levels of First Amendment freedoms afforded to individuals in society or is there a sense that there is too much or too little of these freedoms in America?
  • Should newspapers and college professors be allowed to freely criticize military officials about their strategy and performance?
  • How important is it for the government to be able to monitor religious groups such as Muslims?

Clearly after the attacks of Sept. 11, the freedom of the press, the freedom of religion, the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech were called into question.

These attacks posed the question of "Should we give up our rights to ensure our security?"

Many who answered the survey seem to believe that this is an acceptable compromise.

The survey, which was conducted over the 48 contiguous states, showed that nearly half of the respondents said the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.

About 75 percent of those who took the survey considered the right to speek freely as "essential," and 94 percent agreed that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, many believe that people should not be allowed to display potentially offensive art and half said they would support amending the Constitution to prohibit flag burning.

Support for freedom of the press lagged behind the other First Amendment rights.

More than 40 percent said newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy

and performance.

At the same time, however, more than two-thirds of survey respondents said the right to be informed by a free press is essential.

I don't believe we can have it both ways.

Once we allow government to start regulating newspapers, we certainly might get rid of those publications that we find offensive -- those that express opinions that the majority finds repugnant.

But the fickle thing about opinion is that what was once the majority belief today could find itself the minority later.

That's really what the First Amendment is all about -- protecting the views and the religions of the minority.

The free flow of ideas and information leads to a free people to make their own reasoned decisions and come to their own conclusions.

The free flow of ideas -- a free press, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to criticize the government -- is essential to a democracy.

Once we lose sight of the freedoms afforded in the First Amendment for the sake of security, we truly lose sight of the security that we have enjoyed for more than 200 years.

For more information about this survey, go to http://www.freedomforum.org

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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