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Thursday, April 18, 2024
The Observer

Observer Editorial: An ode to the First Amendment

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In January, the Newseum tweeted that its creator, the Freedom Forum, had sold its building to Johns Hopkins University and the museum would be closing at the end of 2019.

The Newseum, a monument to the First Amendment, opened its doors on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 2008. On the building’s facade, a stone engraving reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We want to recognize the significance of this statement before it’s no longer a monument in our nation’s capital.

As journalists, we rely on the First Amendment for everything we do. As an independent, student-run newspaper, we are free to operate outside administrative purview and employ the rights it outlines every day.

The First Amendment gives us permission to ask questions to which our readers need answers, whether it’s “Why can’t I find former Saint Mary’s President Jan Cervelli anywhere?” or “Why can’t I swipe into my best friend’s dorm for a late night study session?” or “It’s 12:30 a.m. and I’m at the Grotto — where’s the Midnight Express?”

Our reporting is built upon the foundational freedoms detailed in the First Amendment. But these rights extend far beyond those of journalists.

Members of the tri-campus community, and citizens beyond South Bend, celebrate life as it is today because of every freedom granted by the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech set the stage for 20,000 pro-life supporters to gather on the steps of the Capitol Building in the very first March for Life on January 22, 1974; for Colin Kapernick to kneel during the national anthem at a preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016; and for more than four million people to assemble in public spaces (including our campus) in over 163 countries just last week, urging leaders to take action in the Global Climate Strike.

These movements would not have been possible in America if not for the freedoms of the First Amendment. Having the ability to openly engage in any conversation, assemble in any capacity, find faith in any religion and ask questions of the government keeps the wheels of democracy turning.

As The Washington Post’s slogan makes clear, “democracy dies in darkness.” Freedom of speech sheds light on issues that matter.

Don’t let your chance to flex your First Amendment rights go to waste.

Speak up in class discussion. Tweet a hot take. Write a letter to the editor. Sign up for the school-provided New York Times subscription. Stay up-to-date with the happenings of the world.

Find your passion and pursue it. Share your thoughts on our campus’ climate through Show Some Skin at Notre Dame. Learn more about interfaith dialogue with Better Together Club at Saint Mary’s. Get involved with student government’s social concerns committee at Holy Cross.

If none of these suggestions sound appealing, start your own campus group. There’s no better way to honor the First Amendment.

The Newseum might be closing its building, but the First Amendment still stands. No matter the words carved into the side of 555 Pennsylvania Avenue after this year, our commitment to upholding these freedoms must carry on.

We will continue to ask questions, uncover the truth and report it accurately. Hopefully, you will continue to exercise your rights, too.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.