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October 13, 2009

Wonder Why The First Amendment Is So Important?

Because with out it, we might find ourselves reading something like this in American newspapers -- or hearing it in our broadcast media.

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today's published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented for the first time in memory from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

This is, of course, why some of us are so vehement in our defense of the First Amendment rights of free speech and press. After all, it is the right of the public to know what its government is doing -- and to speak on matters touching on government -- that is at the heart of the First Amendment. It is why we argue that what restrictions are placed -- such as in defense of national security during time of war -- must be narrowly tailored so as to cause the least erosion of those rights. And where such restrictions on the freedoms of speech and pres are not narrowly drawn -- such as in the case of federal restrictions on speech surrounding elections -- we protest vigorously and work to overturn them.

Frankly, in the case of this story from the UK I don't know what it could possibly be about. But then again, that is precisely the point of these restrictions -- and why they are dangerous to the working of any society that values the right of the people to govern themselves. And it is why the framers of the American government, recognizing the evils which accompanied the ability of the British government to muzzle the press, included a strong guarantee of press freedom in our framework of government -- and why, over two centuries later, we can see the wisdom of that decision.





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