Ocean City Today

First Amendment: know what it says?

Oct 26, 2017



printed 10/27/2017


No matter who or how many people read this opinion, a big percentage of them are likely to believe government should have the right to prohibit its publication if it sees fit to do so.

This is according to a number of recent surveys conducted to determine how much the public knows about the First Amendment (not much, as it turns out) and whether the freedoms it guarantees are contrary to the national interests.

Freedom of religion, for instance, is not limited to specific denominations or faiths, as 41 percent of the people surveyed by the Newseum Institute believe.

That same poll also found 73 percent of its respondents believe the First Amendment should not protect “fake news.” That’s the real problem, since it leaves open the question of who gets to decide what’s fake and what isn’t.

Certainly not the public, which tends to disbelieve what it doesn’t want to hear and is seldom afforded all the facts on which to base a decision.

Presumably, that decision-making authority would rest with government, and, more specifically, the politicians who form it.

Given the current fragility of the traditional political parties, as extremists on both sides of the aisle go to war against their own establishment members, it’s conceivable that one year’s fake news could be next year’s gospel, all according to who’s in charge at the moment.

There’s no way a democratic society can survive in that environment. Yet, that appears to be how a growing number of people believe things ought to be. It’s scary stuff.

As quoted in a Washington Post column this week, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said this summer, “The First Amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment, and you don’t get to separate the freedoms that are in there. You don’t have religion without assembly. You don’t have speech without press …”

It’s a sad state when many people don’t get that, but it would be a much sadder state if someone no one liked was in charge and neither the press nor the public was permitted to say anything at all.



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