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FSW 2020: Why is Free Speech Important for You?

“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 redress of grievances.” 

That is the First Amendment. It fundamentally protects the rights to religion, freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition the government for grievances. 

We are going to focus on one aspect of the First Amendment: freedom of speech. So what is freedom of speech? In essence it gives anyone the right to speak their own thoughts freely and without censorship whether we may agree or not. It does not protect or value one point of view over another. It protects all.

So how did we get the First Amendment?

Representative James Madison (VA) played a large role in writing the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and more importantly for this discussion, the First Amendment. He would go on to become the 5th Secretary of State and the 4th President of the United States.

Madison drafted and presented his amendments to Congress on June 8, 1789. He stated, “the people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, or to rite, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” (Fig. 1)

Want more info about the First Amendment? Read the full text and drafts.

Fig. 1 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Over more than two centuries, court cases have gone before the Supreme Court to further define the scope of free speech under the First Amendment thus setting precedence for future court cases. 

Some specific cases decided in the Supreme Court include Cox v. Louisiana (1965),  New York Times v. Sullivan (1969) and  Miller v. California (1973). The Constitution Center delves deeper into these cases and more.They explore the interpretation of the Constitution and the First Amendment by law experts. 

See more about The First Amendment with the Constitution Center.

First Amendment discussions are not uncommon. 

Most recently, the First Amendment was brought up briefly during the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The exchange between Barrett and Senator Ben Sasse (R – Neb) began when Sasse asked Barrett what five freedoms were protected under the First Amendment. She answered with four of the five freedoms. Sasse then asked if Barrett knew why these freedoms were presented together in one Amendment instead individually in the Constitution. Barrett didn’t know, nor did I. But Sasse explained it succinctly.

“You don’t really have freedom of religion if you don’t also have freedom of assembly,” Sasse said. “You don’t really have freedom of speech if you can’t also publish your beliefs and advocate for them. You don’t really have any of those freedoms if you can’t protest at times and seek to redress grievances in times when government oversteps and tries to curtail any of those freedoms.”

The establishment of free speech under the First Amendment is vital for citizens to express their views without fear of censorship. In the digital age, navigating Free Speech has become even more important. Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act protects this right in the digital age. Read the full text here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides an even greater explanation of CDA 230 and a handy infographic breaking it down and how it affects your right to free speech online.  

We have been very proud to be a Partnering Organization for Free Speech Week. Freedom of speech is at the very core of our values. Our mission at Napa Valley TV is to provide anyone living or working within our community the tools and opportunity to exercise their First Amendment right through the cable television system.  

We may not see eye to eye on things. We may not even want to hear each other’s point of view. But no matter what, we will stand up for your right to free speech because that is what real freedom looks like.

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