In defense of the First Amendment

As the freedom of the press in the United States comes under fire, it is the job of citizens to protect our most important values.


Navia Palmer

Howard Wilkinson (left) and Ken Rudin (right) visited WHHS to talk to AP U.S. Government and Politics students on Oct. 30. Wilkinson and Rudin cohost a political podcast published by WVXU.

When I was younger, I always wanted my name to go down in history books for saving the world. So I read.
I read books on the Titanic. “If I could give a lifeboat to everyone who is sinking, would I be remembered?” I wondered.
I read books on fairies and mystical kingdoms. “If I defeated a power-hungry king, would I be remembered?” I wondered.
As I have grown older, I still wondered. With all that’s happening in the world, we really need some saving to be happening here. But with age has come skepticism; I now wonder if the world can be saved. And if so, how?
With the ability to read the books I wanted as a kid, I was able to learn about all the things that interested elementary school me. So, with the ability for Americans to freely access the books, newspapers and social media they please, they are able to learn information that will impact their life and the world. This capability is largely due to the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment, including the freedom of the press.
This principle of a free press for Americans was established 231 years ago in the United States Constitution.
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.”
Although these words were written into the highest law of the land, in recent years, the United States has seen the freedom of the press come under attack.
“Journalism and the press are under assault like never before,” Ken Rudin said during his visit to WHHS on Oct. 30 to talk to AP Government classes. Rudin is a journalist and producer of the “Political Junkie” podcast.
Missiles filled with rhetoric of “fake news” and actual explosives loaded with hate have begun to strike publications’ headquarters, trying to weaken the cornerstone of our democracy.
But why does this matter?
“If you don’t know what’s going on in society, you can’t be a part of it,” Jess Stout, ‘22, said. And if you don’t know what’s going on in the world, how can it be saved?
In Saudi Arabia and Turkey, this phenomenon was recently exemplified with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a journalist for the Washington Post and a critic of the Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, according to BBC.
He wrote his final column about the lack of a free press in the Arab world. He saw the effects of this first hand, as a Saudi Arabian citizen. “[Arabs] are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives,” Khashoggi wrote.

Courtesy Reporters Without Borders
This 2005 map published by Reporters Without Borders indicates the restrictions placed on the press around the world. In 2005, the United States was ranked as forty-fourth in terms of freedom. By 2018, it had moved down one place to forty-fifth in terms of press freedom.

America must not let our press become like that of Saudi Arabia. We must continue to talk about the things that “affect” our “day-to-day lives.”
“It’s very important because there should be a way to express yourself. The press is a way to get your opinions out, or even just facts about the government,” Chaya Jones, ‘21, said.
So we must continue to read, to question and to think, reinforcing the free press’s role as a cornerstone of our democracy. We must continue to do this for the past, for the present and for the future–not just for the United States, but for the world.
And although I may not ever be able to save the world by myself, we can work to change society, one article at a time.

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