Good morning, readers, and have a great one as we celebrate our nation’s great Gettin’ Up Day – the Fourth of July. Enjoy this day filled, for most of us, with families gathering, ice cream, flags, parades, watermelon, hot dogs, water sports and night skies exploding with fireworks, among other great Fourth traditions.
One thing that isn’t included on many people’s lists, and should be: a celebration of our country’s Constitution. It remains a landmark document in governance.
I’m not intending to get into a fiery discussion on how the Constitution should be read by us, a future generation – whether it is a living document, which is open to interpretation to meet issues unforeseen by the framers. Or a fixed one, which is to be read literally and without any thought of adopting its provisions to new challenges.
No, I’m not going to get into that. This blog will look at is the part of the Constitution that actually came after the fathers of the document had finished their work and their product had won approval as our rudder of state, our national GPS unit, so to speak. That part is the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments.
The Constitution has helped keep up a free and open society, but the one section that came later and weighs heavily for writers and communicators of all sorts and is of such significance, it considered by many as the greatest provision of the entire package of rights and obligations of Americans.
In the ten amendments are such entitlements as those encapsulated in the all-important First Amendment, such as the right to worship as we choose in whatever way we choose and assemble to protest something, like, say, government bailout of banks.
The First Amendment delivers that franchise I and others consider the greatest of them all – freedom of speech. Sure, the second amendment has the guns privilege, and other amendments deliver other necessary provision.
But freedom of speech entitles us to go about our daily lives – to worship as we will, hunt or keep guns in our houses as we will or assemble as we will or think as we will or write what we will without fear – generally – of being slapped in jail by some Orwellian government. That is why I believe it is the greatest Amendment, and the greatest right of all.
An Athens, Ga., attorney I once interviewed, agreed. “The First Amendment, particularly freedom of speech is the greatest provision of the Constitution,” he said. “On whatever level of government.” I agree.
It is the right that helps fuel the new digital communications age, but one right that is constantly tested.
So far, it is holding up fairly well. The Internet remains relatively free of government intervention and the Supreme Court, despite a current reputation as conservative, has held to recent tradition of a fairly liberal interpretation of freedom of speech. As defined by the court, that freedom has some limitations, but by and large, we can say what we want without fear of Big Brother.
And today, on this Fourth, we text and send our IM’s or emails with relative lack of concern about government intrusion (Unless we consider anti-terrorist measures. Hopefully, they will be temporary and not permanent.) However, as we have seen, we do should have some worries about hackers or invasion of privacy by private entities.
Indeed, it is texting and IM’s and email and other communication advances that have brought a flow of ideas that have helped fuel uprisings against repressive regimes, such as this year’s Syrian and Libyan conflicts. The Arab Spring uprisings, Tiananmen Square and the overthrow of the Egyptian government are other examples.
Such happenings may point the way to a truly secure future for straight talk, although we cannot be certain of that. Governments can act to stifle even these more mobile and media.
However, freedom to speak without fear is still a most sought-after treasurer; one that people, once they have it, may want to conserve by all means possible.
But like all freedoms, the freedom of speech is not inviolate unless we work to make it so. Let’s dedicate ourselves to that end on this Fourth of July. We had our Tiananmen Square more than 200 years ago.