We must exercise our First Amendment rights

More than just a defensive measure, the First Amendment is an active pursuit of a shared truth

Journal Editorial Board

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

News media receives criticisms from all sides of the aisle about biased reporting. To combat these accusations, all reputable news sources make concerted efforts to report as many sides of a story as possible.

Media, after all, are platforms for people’s voices.

Without a multitude of voices, media become echo chambers – and people enjoy their echo chambers.

Hearing the voices of like-minded people offers comfort in a contentious world.

However, the job of the news media is not to offer comfort. It is our job to inform the people of the status of our shared reality, whether they want us to or not.

Many members of the news face accusations of liberal biases. The Journal faces such accusations on a regular basis. And in some aspects, these accusations have merit.

Regardless of how much we may wish to report all sides of a story, though, not all sides make themselves readily available to us, and we simply cannot report on what isn’t there.

Occasionally, this happens because of scheduling conflicts. Most commonly, this occurs because sources of opposing viewpoints refuse to be featured in a newspaper.

We’ve been told that they fear that openly expressing their opinions will lead to harsh criticism from their peers and colleagues. They may fear that open association with certain political or social movements will lead to serious social repercussions.

They want their voices heard, but they fear speaking out.

Everyone faces this Catch-22 at some point in their life. Some people greet it with reserved smiles every Thanksgiving, while others stiffen their shoulders and prepare for the inevitable fight during a class debate. And amongst them all, one phrase offers comfort: “It’s my First Amendment right.”

With how often that phrase finds use in the American public, the rights and protections the First Amendment of the Constitution affords American citizens appear alarmingly misunderstood.

The First Amendment protects religion, speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the government. In a nutshell, it protects people from government bodies punishing them for speaking their minds.

The First Amendment does not protect people from facing social consequences of speaking out. We are all free to voice our opinions, and we are all free to criticize the opinions of others.

This harmony is vital to the maintenance of the public sphere.

According to communication theorist Gerard A. Hausner, the public sphere is a place where common people meet and discuss culturally relevant matters. A few decades ago this was a coffeehouse.

Today, it’s an online comment thread. But regardless of the change in venue, the sentiment remains the same.

The public sphere must be maintained, as it is a place for public opinion to form. Through the discussions, discourse, and debates the sphere sees, a common opinion rises to the surface.

This concept is known as the marketplace of ideas theory.

The marketplace of ideas theory, based on the economic principle of a free market, depicts the public sphere as a marketplace.

It holds that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the marketplace,” according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

The key to this marketplace is that ideas are constantly being fed into it. Without ideas, the marketplace falls into disrepair. Without the marketplace, the public sphere dissolves into various echo chambers.

And if we stay within the comfort of our echo chambers, we have no chance of seeing the change we want.

As citizens of the free world, freedom of speech is our right. And as citizens of the free world, it is our responsibility to utilize that right, especially in the face of dissent.

This is our First Amendment right, and it’s our First Amendment responsibility. It’s not just our First Amendment right – it’s our First Amendment responsibility.