To the editor:
The recent efforts by law enforcement to muzzle the Marion County Record remind us that, for its entire history, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been under assault by powerful forces.
The United States invented the idea of free speech, becoming the first country to codify the right to have and express beliefs contrary to those of the majority, whether political or religious.
From the time Gutenberg invented movable type in the 1400s, the power of the press had been controlled by some combination of three forces (the church, the state, and big business). Even if you had the wherewithal to own a press and could afford the paper to print on, you needed permission from those in power in order to print – and you were limited by those same powers as to what it was you could produce.
The First Amendment changed that – and we have been fighting a rearguard action to protect it ever since. The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak truth to power – and Power rarely likes to be spoken to in that manner.
And so, from John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act (which made it illegal to print anything critical of the president and his government) right up to former president Donald Trump’s unceasing attacks on “fake news” and efforts to loosen libel laws, we have seen continual efforts to curtail press freedom and the public’s right to know through the course of American history.
As a retired journalist and journalism professor, I was always taught that the role of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That’s what the First Amendment empowers.
The comfortable have always fought back, just as they have in the case of the illegal assault on the Marion County Record. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, as they say – and hopefully the sun will continue to shine on your newspaper.
Ossining, New York
Last modified Aug. 24, 2023