Happy birthday, First Amendment. We weren’t going to wish the First Amendment to the Constitution happy birthday in such a public way, but it’s been a tough week and we thought it could use a pick-me-up.
This week, 20 Columbia Journalism School professors wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in opposition to bringing criminal charges against Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks.
Wikileaks has been in the news for leaking classified State Department cables. One of the Columbia signers was Todd Gitlin, whose interest in journalism was piqued years ago when he worked on the Bronx Science Survey. Though he recently published a critical article about Wikileaks in The New Republic, he warned that the chilling effect criminal prosecution could have on journalists is far more dangerous than whatever fallout there might be from the documents themselves.
The professors came together over the simple premise that protecting the First Amendment means protecting speech, even it is considered abhorrent.
Here in Riverdale, Cliff Stanton, has been rallying his neighbors to boycott the Riverdale Review. He and a cohort of Recycle the Review campaigners traveled around the neighborhood last week with a birthday cake topped with the American Flag and a big card for people to sign for the First Amendment’s 219th birthday.
His point (we think) is that while the Review has the right to publish, Mr. Stanton and his supporters’ also have the right to rail against it. The Review has been invoking the First Amendment in full-page ads in its paper, so Mr. Stanton and his group struck back with a cake and a card.
Take the First Amendment at its word: “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.”
When you do, it becomes clear that this fight has nothing to do with the First Amendment at all.