Friday, July 1, 2011

Celebrating Freedom of Speech

We often hear references to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, but every now and then it’s worth a revisit to see exactly what it says. I thought I’d use the occasion of this Independence Day weekend to do just that. So here it is, the First Amendment:

“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.”

Forty-five words that have been argued over, litigated over, debated and which have provided protection for everything from prayer services to flag-burnings. When the First Amendment makes news, emotions are charged on both sides of the issue.

It is because of this amendment that while people in the PR profession can earn any number of degrees and professional credentials we cannot be licensed. This is because it is illegal to censure or ban one from the practice of free and open communication in American society.

Many years ago, I heard someone say the best way to address speech you don’t like is to make your own voice heard. Since that time many technological advances have enabled us to not only make our voices heard, but to make them heard around the world in real time.

On this holiday weekend, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy time to celebrate with friends and family, and to take at least a moment to think about what a privilege it is to live in a place where freedom of speech is the cornerstone of our national constitution. And a big “thank you” to all of those who put their lives on the line to allow the rest of us to exercise these “inalienable rights.”

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