By Briana Stiger
The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) has decided to take matters into their own hands regarding this nation’s First Amendment. CFOG has been promoting National Sunshine Week (March 12-18, 2017) which is a national effort to bring awareness to the significance of freedom of press for the sake of public access to knowledge.
For National Sunshine Week, journalist Jim Smith and journalist and lawyer Thomas Scheffey visited Professor John Roche’s News Writing class at Western Connecticut State University on Thursday March 9th. During their visit, Smith and Scheffey discussed the history of the First Amendment as well as the different ways students can protect their rights to free speech.
Scheffey shared with the class an encounter that challenged his right to free speech as a journalist. He was reporting a story in Nebraska involving the murder of an entire family. After the arrest, a confession of the suspect had been recorded. Scheffey was told last minute by government officials that he could not publish the story of the confession because the suspect had the “right to a fair trial.” Despite this claim, Scheffey decided to publish the story anyways. There is this misconception where the law makes us believe that the law or the government have the final call however, that decision to speak is ultimately up to the editor.
Also during Scheffey and Smith’s visit to Professor Roche’s class, Smith discussed the right to freedom of speech outside of the realm of journalism. He specifically emphasized it is important for students to understand where the line is crossed with practicing their free speech rights.
Smith shared a story about high school students in the Vietnam war era who would wear black wristbands in protest of the fatalities from the war. The wearing of wristbands was a peaceful protest but the school district challenged the students’ right to free symbolic speech. However, “speech not turning into violence is to always be protected,” says Scheffey.
As times goes on, the amendments that originally founded our country are continuing to be misconstrued. Scheffey and Smith very much stressed during their presentation that we all have to be observant of the government in order to protect our right to free speech. “These are the public liberties and the public needs to be unendingly vigilant to protect them,” says Pearlman, “and that begins with education.”
For more information about Connecticut Foundation for Open Government and its dedication to freedom of speech rights, contact Mitchell Pearlman at (860) 881-3517 or see http://www.ctfog.org.