By Jonathan Smith, Editor in Chief
Forty-nine percent of my peers say I should not have the right to publish this sentence. At least not without the government’s approval.
According to results released Jan. 31 in a survey of more than 100,000 high school students, 75 percent of the students said they don’t know what they think about the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or take it for granted, and more than one in three said its rights extended too far.
Let’s see just how far this over-reaching principle goes:
“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.”
Journalists across the nation have bemoaned the results of this survey and what it means for the future of the First Amendment if its next generation of protectors won’t stand at its defense. We have a special interest in the protections provided by the First Amendment, so the concern displayed was to be expected.
I have waited to hear the outcry of another group-others who have a special interest in the First Amendment’s protections. So far, Christians have remained silent.
Maybe most people look at this recent survey and simply don’t see a reason for concern. After all, most of the questions asked deal specifically with the freedom of the press, so why should nonjournalists fret over misconceptions about press freedom?
Because the First Amendment mentions five different protections, people often make the mistake of considering them five separate protections instead of facets of one idea-expression.
Christians have mastered trumpeting the freedom of religion but frequently fail to place as much emphasis on the other four protections. The Optimist receives countless letters each year asking why we were allowed to print a certain article or express such an opinion if this is supposedly a Christian campus.
What good is the freedom of religion if no method exists to express those beliefs?
Sometimes protecting the freedom of religion through speech and expression will mean allowing an unpopular-or even unscriptural-idea to be expressed.
Without each protection provided by the First Amendment, the others are ineffective at best and nonexistent at worst.
So journalists, hold fast to the freedom of the press. Christians, continue to cling to the freedom of religion. Protesters, enjoy your right to petition the government.
But don’t forget to support every other freedom provided by the First Amendment. When misconceptions of one freedom lead to its restriction, restriction of the other freedoms will not be far behind.