Can We Preserve Our Fundamental Freedoms?
“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted by Congress in 1789, ratified by the states in 1791, and with the Second through Tenth Amendments forms the Bill of Rights. It pertains to the importance of not letting government (interpreted to be federal, state, and local government) restrain free speech or the freedom of the press. The framers of the constitution believed that the individual free expression of opinions, as well as a vigilant press that could be critical of government and those in power, were both essential to maintaining this experiment of participatory democracy.
In recognition and celebration of the First Amendment, let me first congratulate the Greater Park Hill News on the occasion of its 60th year of publishing. Over the last 60 years, how we get our news has changed dramatically. We have gone from a mostly-newsprint and paper society to a mostly-virtual one, where we can read the news at will on our computers or phones wherever we may be.
It is nice to still get a newspaper delivered to our doorstep – like GPHN does to this day. And even better to get news that is directly relevant to us. With the slow death of large newspapers around the country and the rise of digital media, there is less emphasis and coverage on the local issues that most impact our lives. We are fortunate to have GPHN. May it continue for at least another 60 years.
However, this tradition of a free press and free expression are at risk. Submitted for your consideration, enter the Twilight Zone.
Over the past four years, because of the pressure placed upon the press by the current, hopefully not-for-long, occupant of the White House, many have forgotten the fundamental importance of free expression of ideas and opinions and most importantly the need for an independent press. I did not say non-opinionated or non-biased press, I said independent press – one that is not controlled by government.
Some press and media outlets are more opinionated than others. And they have their role to play in expressing and amplifying ideas and beliefs held by their supporters. The good ones freely declare and proclaim their biases and opinions. The questionable ones confuse opinion with perceived fact and intend to mislead or persuade under the guise of giving objective points of view. I like the saying “you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.” The pressure from the White House has negatively impacted not just these fundamental freedoms, but society itself.
It is perhaps because of this evolution of that we have seen such bizarre behavior over the last four years. We have a national pandemic, that I submit was the prevailing issue in the presidential race – and one that some still won’t admit is serious. Instead of acknowledging its seriousness, we have seen nothing but lies, half-lies, mistruths, and avoidance from the White House – even after Donald Trump, his wife and son all contracted COVID-19. In a display of arrogance of the first order, U.S. Senators, White House staff and others were all exposed to the virus at a “no-mask” Rose Garden reception. This was followed by the vilification of those who report and speak the truth – scientists, doctors, infectious disease experts and the World Health Organization.
What you don’t agree with, even if true, gets branded as “fake news,” giving license to anyone who wants to disregard or ignore it. That is why so many won’t wear masks and why cases, hospitalizations and death rates continue to climb in nearly two-thirds of the states. Some of these same people want a return to normal, but refuse to do what it takes to get there. Many speak of “pandemic fatigue,” but I have not met or spoken with anyone yet who is fatigued with being alive.
It does not stop there. When people take to the streets in record numbers to cry out against systemic racism in society, evidenced by the numerous deaths of unarmed Black men and women, they are denounced as radicals. When people seek to express their opinions in that uniquely American way, at the ballot box, Trump has spouted lie after lie about election fraud. He defunded the U.S. Postal Service in an effort to stymie voting by mail. He encouraged states like Georgia and Texas to make voting as difficult as possible in communities of color. He has even gone so far as to hint that if he disagrees with the election results, he may not leave office. The framers of the constitution never would have envisioned these events. That quaking you feel is them spinning in their graves.
Hopefully, you did not let the distractions, deceptions and noise stop you from exercising your constitutional right of free expression. You voted. Thank you.
Viva the First Amendment.
Penfield W. Tate III is an attorney in Denver. He represented Park Hill in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1997 to 2000, and in the State Senate from 2001 to February 2003. A candidate for mayor of Denver in 2019, Tate’s opinion column returned to these pages last December. He lives in Park Hill.