An 8th grade class from the International School of Brooklyn visited the GMG offices today. We divided the class into three groups and gave them two hours to report and write a story, using our staff as sources. Here’s what they wrote (with some light edits).
“[The First Amendment] helps us put a mirror on society and reflect truth back without worrying about the consequences.” - Raju Narisetti
The First Amendment is: “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.” The first amendment assures the protection of freedom of religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.
In a poll about the First Amendment from the Newseum Institute, 57 percent of Americans knew that the First Amendment includes freedom of speech.
In the same poll, people were questioned on whether or not the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. In 2014, 38 percent of Americans said that it went too far. A year later, that number dropped to 19 percent.
The same poll showed most Americans disagree with the fact that the news media try to report without bias. In 2013, there were the least amount of people who disagreed with the fact that the news try to report without bias, and in 2011, the were the most amount of people who disagreed with the fact that the news try to report without bias.
Why is freedom of speech important? For the answer to this question we turn to Jack Mirkinson, a news editor from Fusion. He said the First Amendment is important because it allows not just us, but journalists across the country to do our job. It keeps us from being thrown in jail and allows anybody else in the United States to do the same. It allows us to criticize, argue, question the world around us and the people in power. Ellie Shechet from Jezebel had a similar point: For a democratic society to function, people need to feel free to speak to and about people in power. There are so many places where people are forced to adhere to a single way of thinking, and it’s something we take for granted too often. It’s also necessary to make change in the world, something Sidney Fussell told us all about: “People in power can do lots of different things that affect people’s realities. The only way to set up barriers against that type of abuse is to know about it and speak out about it.” However, it all has to do with context. While a journalist probably loves freedom of speech, and Americans who rely on it are also glad it exists, someone famous (a celebrity, political figure or an authoritarian) might not be so warm to the idea once a negative article is written about them and published to the world.
However, like anything else it has its problems, and people in power have tried to restrict our freedom of speech before. For example, the New York Times vs. Sullivan case, where a man named L.B. Sullivan sued the New York Times because he didn’t like how his police department was portrayed in an advertisement exposing how the police treated people of color during protests. This direct attack on the press went all the way to the Supreme Court.
While most of the people that were talked to said that nowadays there were no negative aspects to freedom of speech because of how central to democracy free press was, there were a couple of people who had something different to say. The freedoms we enjoy are available to everyone, as they should be, but with that comes hate speech and opinions we disagree with. This is a good thing because it means that we can see the world through different lenses, but it also makes room for hate speech and fake news being prominent in our current world. The point of freedom of speech is to protect people, like the press and reporters, but it also needs to protect their subjects, which can be extremely hard especially in current times with such delicate subjects now coming under the light.
It’s hard to understand how much we take the First Amendment for granted, but in places such as China, Iran, Sudan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, people do not have the freedom to express themselves. It’s important to remember that it isn’t a single line between freedom and oppression. There are different levels to both, and deciding how you feel about it is something everyone should do in their lifetime. This amendment gives us the ability to inform ourselves about the world and know that people are saying what they truly think so it’s our duty to take this opportunity.