Whether people realize it or not, the founding fathers of this great nation (and yes, with all of its faults and failures, it is still a great nation) were inspired by a spark of genius in setting up this great republic. Founded by the principles of democracy (see how I put the root words for Republican and Democrat in this sentence?), they realized that for this great experiment in freedom to work, certain things had to be protected and certain things had to have checks and balances. For the most part, I think they got it right.
Following last Tuesday’s election, a lot of people were talking. Some were happy, some were sad, a lot of people were mad. (And some, like the commentators on MSNBC, were just stupid.) Some friends of mine on social media were lamenting the fact that even though the power in Congress had shifted, the president was probably going to force his policies down the throats of the country by using executive power. I pointed out to them that with the shift in Congress, the legislative branch has the power to override any veto the president may sign and to counteract any executive legislation that the people (ie, registered voters) are opposed to. They didn’t get it.
But our founding fathers did. They realized that power in its rawest form really needs to have some form of checks and balances (Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely). They knew that no matter who is in power, it could become too seductive or too easy to do what that individual wants rather than what the people want. So they built in those checks and balances and then they clarified their intent through the Bill of Rights. Over the years, the ensuing amendments protected more rights that are sacrosanct.
That is the genius that I celebrate, that I defend, that I, as a journalist, will fight for.
My sophomore year in college, seeing a wrong that infringed on freedom of speech is what prompted me to join the newspaper staff at my school. It was what prompted me to pursue a career in journalism. When someone — anyone — infringes on those rights that we as Americans hold so dear, it gets my blood boiling and my computer hot.
Over the next few weeks, you are going to hear me, and a lot of other people, talking about freedom of the press. Besides freedom of religion, that is one of our most sacred of rights, in my opinion. So, just to make sure we are all on the same page, here is what the first amendment says:
“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.”
If Congress cannot make a law “abridging the freedom of the press,” then surely a local government or a paid administrator in local government can’t either. The 4th Estate, which is the ultimate check and balance, has been sorely abused over the past couple of years through partisan politics; however, the defense of a free press makes for strange bed fellows, wherein the enemy of my enemy becomes my friend.
At Up & Coming Weekly, we have fought the giants in city politics in defense of the first amendment since our inception; we haven’t lost a fight yet. Those who would seek to abuse the rights we, as Americans hold dear, need to remember that.