Our great country was founded on inalienable rights, and one of these rights – the right to free speech – is set forth in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
This gem of legislation, written by our illustrious founding fathers, reads as follows:
“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.”
More than mere freedom of speech, this amendment guarantees Americans the rights that make us Americans – freedom to worship as we see fit; freedom to say what we think; freedom to print what we think, freedom to assemble together and tell the government what we think.
Back in 1858, the British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill said, “It is to be hoped that the time in which it was necessary to defend freedom of expression as one of the guarantees against corrupt or authoritarian government has passed.”
Mill was something of an idealist, but even way back in the Victorian era, he saw very clearly that a populace governed by a reasonably intelligent governing body should take freedom of expression in all its various forms as a given.
And yet, a century and a half later freedom of expression is still under assault.
The media itself, driven by the politics of profit, often strays off course from true freedom of expression.
A lot of journalists seem to have forgotten the ideals of journalism – the sacred duty to present the public with as true a picture as possible of the larger world they inhabit.
Certainly there is a place for what the people will pay for, but it seems to me that any news media outlet that is driven by profit alone has missed the point.
The thing that makes freedom of expression so important to a society is that it allows the truth to be told, regardless of who doesn’t want it to be revealed.
It allows people to express their opinions, regardless of who agrees with them.
There are some people in the world who do not believe that citizens should have free access to information. These people seem to believe information that does not confirm their own worldview is somehow dangerous.
True enough, information that does not confirm one’s own view is dangerous to that view. However, if a person’s viewpoint cannot stand up to new information, it is not a viable viewpoint and should be discarded.
There are also people who seem to believe that other people are not capable of discerning the truth for themselves. This may be true, but it is my opinion that people who have been sheltered from the truth are usually the ones who have a difficult time deciding what is right.
Hearing and reading different points of view allows people to develop their own thinking skills instead of relying upon other people to tell them what is right and wrong.
If a nation is peopled with citizens who must be told what is right and wrong because they are unable to discern it for themselves, it will be a nation ripe for dictatorship.
Any true education will encourage people to think for themselves, which is what our founding fathers intended when they wrote freedom of expression into the Constitution.
A truly free press, a truly free country - with real freedom of expression, gives people the abilities and the tools to think for themselves.
That is one of the chief functions of the media, as far as I’m concerned.