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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

[FREE SPIRIT] First Amendment freedoms let citizens determine morality of their expression

Orion Kim
FIVE FREEDOMS. The First Amendment of the Constitution lays out five essential freedoms for American citizens. Over the summer, co-Editor in Chief Orion Kim dove deep into the nuances of the Amendment. “Reporters might be able to cover content freely, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t respect the people they’re covering,” Kim wrote.

This past summer from Jun. 24-29, I had the honor of representing Minnesota at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. The program selects one rising senior from each state and Washington, D.C. with the hope of informing young journalists about First Amendment freedoms and preparing them for careers in journalism.

After a week of riveting panel discussions, tours of C-SPAN and the Wall Street Journal bureau, conversations with Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists, and late-night sightseeing, I wanted to take the time to reflect on what I learned about the First Amendment.

Pullquote Photo

It’s up to the citizens themselves to monitor remarks that may be harmful.

Throughout the entire week, lessons about the First Amendment were structured into our schedule, but the basis of our knowledge was taught during the first panel. In this session, First Amendment specialist at the Freedom Forum Kevin Goldberg led a discussion primarily focused on common misconceptions of the amendment’s freedoms.

Goldberg commenced the presentation by reading aloud the amendment as it appears in the Bill of Rights: “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.”

He then laid out the five freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. These freedoms are protected under all three branches of the government on the local, state, and federal levels. However, the protection granted under these rights is only reserved under the government. One of the most frequent misconceptions is that First Amendment rights are applicable to private institutions, which is simply not true.

Another topic that Goldberg brought up is that the government can’t compel speech any more than it can restrict it. For example, in Wooley V. Maynard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New Hampshire could not force residents to sport license plates that opposed their moral values.

While the majority of speech is protected by the government, there are some exceptions. This includes but is not limited to defamation, obscenity, blackmail, perjury, plagiarism, and solicitation to commit crimes.

The First Amendment is far from perfect. There are countless caveats and exceptions that make misconceptions habitual. At the end of the presentation, Goldberg made one final remark: it’s incredibly important to know the specificities of the First Amendment, but that knowledge shouldn’t serve as moral guidance.

Speech is often framed as the most celebrated of the five freedoms, so it serves as the best example. Just because certain speech is permitted under the law does not mean it should be said. As Goldberg emphasized in his presentation, the U.S. ultimately decided to protect all speech and not restrict it. It’s better to have all speech with some detrimental speech, than no speech at all. It’s up to the citizens themselves to monitor remarks that may be harmful.

One example of detrimental speech that is generally protected by the First Amendment is hate speech. However, that doesn’t mean hate speech is morally justifiable under any circumstance. On a less extreme level, this reasoning is applicable to all five freedoms. Pertaining to journalism, reporters might be able to cover content freely, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t respect the people they’re covering.

By the end of the journalism conference, this message was clear: The First Amendment is one of the most significant pieces of the Constitution that grants many freedoms fundamental to all citizens. However, it is up to the citizens themselves to understand the amendment, and not abuse it.

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About the Contributor
Orion Kim
Orion Kim, co-Editor in Chief
My name is Orion Kim (he/him) and I’m the co-Editor in Chief of The Rubicon. At school, I’m captain of the soccer team and a member of the Asian Student Alliance. I also love to play the piano, watch movies, and eat good food. I can be reached at [email protected].

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