Cherish free speech

“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 people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” 

-First Amendment to Constitution of the United States 

This newspaper and many others encourage letters to the editor which are published on our opinion pages.

The letters focus on varying topics and as the name of the section implies, the writer imparts his or her opinion on said topic.

Sometimes that opinion is directed at the newspaper directly. We have learned through the years to have tough skin and allow the flow of free speech. We exist because of that right. We shouldn’t be in the business of denying it to others.

A good example of that was shared in the 1995 film “The American President” starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. 

Here’s what Douglas’ character President Andrew Shepherd had to say about free speech.

“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” 

Seasoned reporters understand the importance of safeguarding the First Amendment. They know, also, that though telling the truth is made more difficult in these topsy-turvy times – when truth is flippantly called “lies” and lies are defended as truth – if they do not do their duty, then no one will. 

This is National Newspaper Week (Oct. 6-12). The 2019 theme is, “THINK F1RST: Know Your Five Freedoms.” The South Dakota Newspaper Association First Amendment Committee is celebrating the week by kicking off a monthly feature that will share opinions from S.D. newspapers about First Amendment issues. These columns will also focus on open government and freedom of information – what some might call, “The Right to Know.” 

The five rights enshrined in the first amendment protect our liberty to speak openly; practice religion freely; assemble publicly in protest or support; petition for government change; and report news without fear of government intervention or oppression. 

From time to time, explosions of criticism and unfettered hate may around them rage, but because reporters are loyal to the duties of a free press, including to challenge government leaders and policies, each of the First Amendment freedoms continues to wave like stripes in a flag emerging in the dawn’s early light.

United States citizens should not take our First Amendment rights for granted either because: 1) Most people in the world do not have them; and 2) We use them all the time. 

So, take a moment today to thank the founders of our country and those who followed in their footsteps who invested their lives in this country and assured that these freedoms would endure.

Contributing to this editorial were Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia, executive editor of The Richmond Daily News and The Excelsior Springs Daily Standard, and Brian Hunhoff of the Yankton County Observer. 

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