The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were written because many of the early leaders of our republic worried that the Constitution did not do enough to shield the liberty of the individual from attack from the government the Constitution created. That’s why the First Amendment grants Americans freedom of religion, speech and the press and the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for the redress of grievances. Nevertheless, the idea of free speech and freedom of the press have been a hard sell from the beginning of our nation. That is certainly the case today.
According to a poll by the Paris-based marketing and opinion research firm Ipsos that was reported by the online news site Daily Beast, 43 percent of Republicans think President Donald Trump should have the power to shut down news outlets thought to be purveyors of fake news. Equally distressing, many people on the leftward end of the U.S. political spectrum want to do away with sources, mainly in social media and other online sources, that spread what they consider hate or lies of the right.
In his 1644 essay “Areopagitica,” the English poet and polemicist John Milton declared, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” History tells us that many of the framers of the Constitution didn’t think the Bill of Rights was necessary and argued the Constitution did not give the federal government the power to restrict the freedom of speech and the press. We, however, are glad the nation has had the extra assurance the First Amendment has provided until now — and hope this continues.