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Celebrating the First Amendment

June 21, 2010 - Jim Anderson

Readers may have noticed that our affiliated newspaper sites in the Upper Peninsula have long ago abandoned online reader comments.
The fact that The Daily News continues to accept reader comments is a mixed blessing.
Occasionally, we have “readers” who merely want to spew profanity or hatred. Our “report abuse” option is meant to self-police such distractions.
On the plus side, reader comments exemplify the freedoms granted by the First Amendment.
Coming soon is a national public campaign, “1 for All,” which is aimed at addressing a lack of awareness about the freedoms granted by the First Amendment. The Daily News is among the campaign’s many supporters.
A centerpiece of the campaign is the Web site
The site offers a list of 10 ways to support the First Amendment.
Here’s a few that could pertain to online reader comments.
No. 5 is “express yourself.”  Be engaged in the world around you; let others know how you feel.
No. 6 is “stay informed.” Free speech is even better when we know what we’re talking about. Read. Learn. Share.
And No. 9 is “stand up for others.” We all love our own freedom of speech, but it’s important to support the rights of others to express their own opinions.
In acknowledging the limits that are sometimes placed on First Amendment freedoms, 1forAll offers this:
“Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously expressed this point when he wrote that ‘the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.’ Holmes’s famous phrase means that not all forms of speech are protected. For example, the First Amendment does not protect obscenity, child pornography, true threats, fighting words, incitement to imminent lawless action, criminal solicitation or defamation.”
Recent surveys by the First Amendment Center show that only 1 in 25 Americans can name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.(Count me among those not making the cut.)
When asked to identify the specific freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, 55 percent named free speech, followed by 18 percent who mentioned freedom of religion and 16 percent who said freedom of the press. Fourteen percent mentioned freedom of assembly and only 4 percent named the right to petition the government.
Thirty-nine percent of Americans could not name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.
The First Amendment 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.”
On July 4, as the flag waves, as we praise and cherish freedom, give some thought to these words from Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum and First Amendment Center: 
“So many people around the world long for the freedom we enjoy every day. These freedoms make the United States unique and we must never take them for granted. ... It’s not a coincidence that the strongest, most dynamic, most creative and most ambitious nation in the history of the planet is also the most free.”


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