By Cathi Gerhard
“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.” –First Amendment to the Constitution
There is a lot of interpretation surrounding our right to free speech, so the US courts have examined and refined the parameters since the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the constitution) was adopted on December 15, 1791.
- Pure speech is the verbal expression of thoughts and opinions before a voluntary audience. Courts have generally provided strong protection of pure speech from government regulation.
- Speech-plus involves actions, such as demonstrating or protesting, as well as words. Speech-plus is not generally protected as strictly as is pure speech, because actions can be physically dangerous. The courts have ruled that demonstrators may not obstruct traffic, endanger public safety, or trespass illegally.
- Symbolic speech technically involves no speech at all, but it involves symbols that the courts have judged to be forms of free expression. Symbolic actions such as wearing black armbands in school and draft-card burning fit this category. Symbolic speech is highly controversial, and as a rule, the courts have sometimes considered it to be beyond the limits of free speech. However, the Supreme Court did uphold the right of an individual to burn an American flag in the 1989 Texas vs. Johnson decision.
Many of the same principles that apply to freedom of speech apply to the press, but one with special meaning for the press is prior restraint. The courts have ruled that the government may not censor information before it is written and published, except in the most extreme cases of national security. (ushistory.org)These are the guidelines by which all media write and publish, though the details are often debatable.
Pure freedom also includes sharing ideas and information without the influence of politics, religion, or corporate interests – something hard to do in today’s world of conglomerates and media empires who seem to own everything and everybody at some level. One look at any network news channel or major city paper reveals the private agenda of the owner and advertisers, rather than a pure stream of unbiased information.
It has been a struggle to avoid the traps of controversy with the Laurel Mountain Post over the years. People are passionate about their opinions and want to share them. I have turned away many columnists wishing to write about “hot” topics, or trade ad purchases for articles because it always turned contentious. I personally debate with many people, and have lost friends over it; however, I also defend each person’s right to their opinions – spoken, written or otherwise communicated. But not in the Laurel Mountain Post. My goal has always been to find the POSITIVE stories out there, and to let the people tell them. Sometimes personal politics slip through, but with the best of intentions.
I hope you continue to enjoy the way we tell the stories, as much as we enjoy bringing them to you!