National Newspaper Week

National Newspaper Week 2019: Think First - Know Your Five Freedoms

It's National Newspaper Week, and those who appreciate the free flow of information should take a few moments to ponder just how important the First Amendment is to our way of life.

Many countries have constitutions, and their citizens are afforded a variety of important rights. But the U.S. is almost unique in its application of the all-important First Amendment. And although some folks seem to give more weight to the Second Amendment, it could not exist without the First.

Many would also argue the Second Amendment is needed to protect the First. In theory, that's true - but who among us is willing to take up arms against the government to ensure that our rights aren't dismantled? Not many, or it would be happening now, and at several times in the recent past. A growing number of politicians of the highest rank - at all levels, municipal, county, state and federal - would like nothing better than to silence the media, and with it anyone else who disagrees with their methods.

Thus the "fake news" mantra. Politicians and members of the public who would tar all media with the same brush should be viewed with suspicion. Just because readers or viewers don't like what they're hearing and seeing doesn't mean the information isn't accurate. It's especially alarming when those who are so loyal to a leader - political, religious, business, organizational or otherwise - refuse to believe what their own eyes and ears are telling them.

Americans owe their loyalty not to politicians or political parties, and not even to the land upon which this country was built. Their allegiance should be to the Constitution, for without that document, the U.S. as we know it would cease to exist. It's grounded in a respect not for specific segments of the population, but for all who live and breathe here. As the Pledge says, the liberty and justice is for "all," not just the privileged few. And since the First Amendment is really five freedoms in one, it's incumbent upon all of us to know them.

The freedom of religion has often been used to marginalize other faiths in deference to one. Americans are free to worship as they choose - or, just as importantly, not at all. The First assures there is no preference, and even religious traditions that seem silly or offensive may be practiced, as long as no one else is harmed.

Freedom of speech is also misrepresented. Americans can speak their mind and express their on thoughts without governmental interference - a liberty many politicians have made it clear should belong only to them and their supporters. But there's a fine line between passionate opinions and "hate speech" - words that clearly incite violence against others. With free speech comes responsibility, and we must exercise it.

Another right the government has tried to curtail in recent years guarantees the ability to "peaceably assemble" to achieve a common goal. That doesn't mean groups can gather anytime, anywhere, but it does mean they can protest peacefully. Closely akin is the right to "petition" the government for "redress of grievances." That means we can actively demand change or adjustments to the way we are governed - by calling or emailing representatives, writing letters to the editor, or gathering signatures on petitions.

The liberty that is in the cross-hairs, and the most denigrated, is "freedom of the press," which allows publishing, circulation, broadcasting or sharing information and opinions through any medium without government censorship. That doesn't mean the public can use "the press" any way it chooses, for in this country, most media are private rather than government interests. A responsible outlet won't use its position to libel or defame, but to tell the truth to which all Americans are entitled - and it will make corrections when it errs.

The Tahlequah Daily Press, like all other newspapers, takes its role seriously, and we value and uphold the First Amendment rights that belong to us, and to you. We appreciate the support of our readers, and every day, we renew our pledge to keep you informed. It's not just our right; it's our obligation.

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