By Hannah Shaffer
Questions to ponder: The First Amendment with its assertions of free speech and a free press was a revolutionary idea when it was written in the late 18th century. Why did the architects of a new government deliberately choose to create a mechanism for the unfettered criticism of the new government? Do you agree with Anthony Lewis when he says, “But I am convinced that the fundamental American commitment to free speech, disturbing speech, is no longer in doubt.” (Lewis, xv)
I think the architects of the new government deliberately chose to lay down rules that allowed for the criticism of government because they knew that if they were going to create a new government, they had to allow someone to keep them in check and to make sure that the government was doing things honestly and in a way that would benefit all.
There is no president who was 100 percent happy with what the press had to say about them. It started back with George Washington and it will continue after Donald Trump. I think it’s important to have someone, like the press, to keep the government accountable, and I think when the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights they knew that someone would need to do just that.
In The Press and The Presidency on page 22, William B. Giles, the 24th governor of Virginia and U.S. Congressman at the start of the 19th century (Senate 1804-1815; House 1790-1798) is quoted as saying: “It should not be forgotten that in the United States the rights of every man and of every society are popular – the rights of opinion, or of thinking and speaking and publishing, are sacred.” I think this is important to remember even now. I feel lucky to live in a world where I do have the right to my own opinion and I can publish my views on a subject, even if that idea is not well received. Living in a world where we are all allowed to say what we think sometimes gets taken for granted and it’s something that makes our society work and it allows us to agree and disagree with each other, with the government, and with anything we see as unjust.
This summer I interned with WVXU Cincinnati Public Radio, Cincinnati’s NPR affiliate. While at WVXU the Ray Tensing re-trial took place. I remember when the initial trial happened and how angry some people were when the jury came back deadlocked. This summer the jury came back deadlocked again. There were riots and protests throughout the entire process and some of the things said about law enforcement as a whole and the Ray Tensing trial more specifically were extremely negative and in some cases downright disturbing, but they were not stopped because they had the right to free speech. It was not until things turned violent that anyone had to step in. These protests showed that it does not matter what the protesters say, they are protected under free speech.
Because of this situation I experienced, I do agree with Anthony Lewis when he says: “But I am convinced that the fundamental American commitment to free speech, disturbing speech, is no longer in doubt.” Protesters say things that some may find disturbing all the time, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t allowed to say it.