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Bill of Rights

Sunshine Week holds special significance this year.

We have a president who refers to the press as the “enemy of the people.” We have an administration that dismisses news it does not like as “fake news.” Information is disappearing from government websites. State lawmakers are seeking to make Idaho government less transparent. And we still have too many local governments oblivious to open-meetings and open-records laws.

These days, it seems the First Amendment is under attack from all sides, and our tradition of free expression seems to be fading. In our new reality, our leaders’ relentless repetition of falsehoods and attempts to silence dissent are threatening the spirit of a free and open society.

So, yes, Sunshine Week – celebrated by free-speech advocates and the media to bring attention to government transparency and First Amendment rights – is especially important this year, March 12-18.

But for all the efforts to discredit the press, to create a post-truth reality of alternative facts, we still believe the First Amendment is imperishable.

First of all, it’s enshrined in our Constitution: “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.”

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In just 45 words, James Madison raised these freedoms to be the most important in the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing free expression and individual liberties unheard of at the time. These rights have transcended any president or legislature or local government. And they’ve survived attacks from all three for 228 years.

Second, these rights survive because people are willing to fight — and in some cases, die — for them. And they’re sustained in small ways, too, whenever someone writes a letter to the editor, buys a newspaper, attends church, holds a meeting without fear of government interference, or assembles to peacefully protest.

We encourage everyone to make one small gesture in support of the First Amendment this week. It’s seldom one or two grand actions that defend against attacks on our freedoms — it’s the collective will of a people, the sum of many small actions.

Let us all do our parts.

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