I don’t need to tell anyone how ironic it would be for speakers, individual or corporate, to remain silent about the value of the First Amendment during National Freedom of Speech Week (Oct. 18-24). But if I did need to tell them, including writing an angry editorial or standing on a soapbox in the town square, electronic or otherwise, I would be free to do so.
That is why I encourage media outlets as well as schools, civic associations, and other community groups, to join the Media Institute, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation, and others in spotlighting the freedom that allows ink- and ion-stained journalists to tell truth to power without fearing a late night knock on the door, or at least not one from officials with the power to suppress that truth.
The First Amendment also protects the ability of bloggers to blog, kibitzers to kibitz and curmudgeons to curmudge.
We encourage teachers to take at least some time out of a day next week to explain to their students that their ability to speak freely to one another online–and boy do they ever–is the gift of a system of government that views the liberty to speak out as a self-evident truth. While you are at it, point out that the freedom to speak out is not an affirmative obligation to say whatever they like about the girl who just beat them out for head cheerleader or the “so lame” guy who got the lead in “Bye Bye Birdie.” In the Internet age, potshots are now heard ’round the world and can have major collateral damage.
The freedom to speak out in a world where everyone is connected and speech is amplified in an instant has never been more powerful, but with that power comes the charter of using it responsibly. Let’s make both those points while we are at it.
Anyone looking for ideas on how to make their voices heard during National Freedom of Speech Week can go to freespeechweek.org.