Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My office door...

For those of you who don't know, I currently edit a weekly college newspaper. Recently, I published this letter from the editor.

My office door will probably be remembered as the most undecorated Executive Editor door ever. Currently, I have two papers stuck to it and tomorrow I might add a feather and a copy of the Desiderata. What's there now is a paper encouraging HIV testing (do it if you haven't yet) and a print up of the First Amendment. I've been staring at that amendment a lot as I go into the office each morning; sometimes with pride, sometimes with frustration.

The first amendment is currently interpreted as naming five rights. In no particular order these are: freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble freedom to petition the government, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Also, a sixth right is implied in this: freedom from religion. This amendment is the closest thing to a bible or creed that I follow, but a crisis is occurring. I've started asking questions like "Freedom of speech is great, but what if somebody is using their speech to push their religion and to petition the government in a way that oppresses me?" and, "What if they're doing this on my dime?"

I started asking the questions last week and in doing so I began to wonder about the responsibilities I've been entrusted with. Can I edit a paper, even with great colleagues, when I catch myself questioning my own ethical codes at the first sign of discord? Can I be objective? Ultimately, the only answer to these questions is that I'm human. A diversified staff will keep a balance. A constant office dialogue will keep both sides heard, promoting objectivity. And an active readership will keep us in line - letting us know both the objective and the slanted coverage.

But is that enough? According to "The State of the First Amendment Survey 2005" by the First Amendment Center, in partnership with the American Journal Review, 47 percent of Americans did not know that freedom of speech is a right named by the First Amendment and 84 percent didn't know it named freedom of the press as a right. Alarm bells are ringing.

These rights are not "God-given, inalienable rights." They can be taken away. And, if we, made of the very same flesh and blood as the original authors of this amendment, don't value them enough to know what they are, then they will be taken away. And if that happens, the government will be able to go through your library records without you knowing and to arrest people who hold a peaceful protest in front of the White House.

Oops, too late.

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