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Jeb Bladine: Good time to revisit the First Amendment

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1791, underpins America’s most important individual freedoms. Every so often, it’s pertinent to remember that one simple, but very complicated, sentence:

“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.”
Now is a good time.

This week, President Donald Trump suggested it is time to challenge and revoke the NBC broadcasting license for reporting news he considers “partisan, distorted and fake.” He called it “disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want, and people should look into it.”

Trump’s many assaults on First Amendment rights have been well documented. He said flag burners should either spend a year in jail or lose their citizenship, and athletes protesting racial discrimination are SOBs who should be fired.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Free speech, apparently, belongs to him, but not to his critics. Of course, Trump is not alone in that approach to power politics.

First Amendment ink had barely dried when President John Adams signed the Sedition Act of 1798, described on History.com as “one of the most egregious breaches of the U.S. Constitution in history.” The act allowed prosecution of 14 Republicans, mainly journalists, for “malicious remarks about the president or government of the United States.”

More than a century later, reports History.com, the Sedition Act of 1918 imposed penalties for “insulting or abusing the U.S. government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.”

Skip forward four decades to yet another assault on free speech, as described in The Atlantic: “In 1969 (President Richard) Nixon directed Vice President Spiro Agnew to make speeches attacking newspapers and the television networks as if they were rival political parties … the vice president’s popularity soared after these speeches, and the intimidated networks backed away from critically analyzing Nixon’s speeches.”

This week in McMinnville, free speech was exhibited surrounding the visit of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. And in our company, we noted a comment by former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, now president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters: “The founders of our nation set as a cornerstone of our democracy the First Amendment, forever enshrining and protecting freedom of the press.”

As President Trump said, “people should look into it.”

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

Comments

Rotwang

You know, the Second Amendment is there to protect the First. You should be more keen to support the Second than you are.

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