Free to be you and me
More than 200 years ago — 220, to be exact — on Dec. 15, 1789, the state of Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the Bill of Rights, thus putting those famous first 10 amendments into effect.
Although our U.S. Constitution is obviously a big deal, it likely would not have been approved without the promise of a Bill of Rights. It is those first 10 amendments that promise the free will so important to us and truly separate the United States from other democracies around the world.
Unfortunately, most of us have no idea what's in the First Amendment, let alone the Bill of Rights. This year, the First Amendment Center's survey showed fewer than 3 percent of Americans could name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 30 percent could name none. Seriously, almost a third of us don't know about Freedom of Speech? Apparently not.
"What does it say about America that we zealously celebrate our government’s Declaration of Independence from another government and totally overlook the American people’s Declaration of Independence from its government?"
So, in order to support a more informed citizenry, CultureMap is providing a cheat sheet:
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.
(That freedom to "petition the Government for a redress of grievance" always gets me.)
A national holiday
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the black clouds of Adolf Hitler's Germany darkening the future, declared Dec. 15 National Bill of Rights Day. Roosevelt asked Americans to “observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and prayer,” and added that Hitler’s greatest fear was our freedom of speech, press and religion.
You didn't get the day off today, though, did you?
"What does it say about America that we zealously celebrate our government’s Declaration of Independence from another government and totally overlook the American people’s Declaration of Independence from its government?" wrote Ken Paulson, President of the First Amendment Center.
Free to Tweet
In a socially connected world, that First Amendment's assurance of freedom of speech becomes pretty important. We are free to tweet, Facebook, link-in, check-in, as well as un-friend, unfollow and check-out. It's a freedom not shared by a lot of other countries. The evidence of that becomes obvious once protests — like the Arab Spring — break out and government responds by shutting down the Internet.
This year The First Amendment Center sponsored Free to Tweet, a tweet-up using #freetotweet in order to celebrate our freedom to, well, tweet whatever we want.
Sometimes Grandmas can make for a pretty good personal censor.
As practitioners of journalism, we at CultureMap have a unique relationship with the Bill of Rights — the First Amendment in particular.
That amendment promises us a job. It guarantees us the right to practice our craft. Our job, the job of “the press,” is the only job outside of government that is guaranteed and protected.
If we don't even know what our freedoms are, how can we keep them safe?
So, tonight at the bar while celebrating National Bill of Rights Day, try this as an outstanding bar bet: What are the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment? Stick to the cheat sheet above and you'll probably win, but at the same time, you'll spread a little education, making us all a bit more free.