Free Spirits and the First Amendment


Photo courtesy of Freedom Forum Institute.

Audrey Whitaker '19, Editor in Chief

In May, one rising senior from each state, plus Washington, D.C., was asked the same question: what is your favorite First Amendment freedom?

For those who aren’t familiar, there are five freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.  They were drilled into my head during my week in DC representing the state of Michigan.

To high schoolers, this may be common knowledge, fresh in our minds from government class. However, according to the Newseum, 33 percent of Americans have no idea what rights the First Amendment guarantees.

It may seem outrageous, but think about it:  Americans have lost sight of our most important freedoms.  Take a look at national headlines on any given day and you will see activists, journalists and people of all different religions under attack for exercising their first amendment rights.  All too often, those attacking our rights are the ones who should be protecting them.

I may be biased, but to me, the answer was immediately clear. Freedom of the press is the most important right guaranteed by the First Amendment. While the freedom of speech gives us a voice, a free press gives the people a greater audience and powerful representation.  What good is speech without anyone listening?

The media is not the enemy of the people; it’s our best friend.  Every journalist I met in DC–from The Washington Post, USA Today, NBC and even the New York Times– agreed that above all else, journalists are in the business of truth.

If it seems like the media is pointing out a lot of problems in our government, it’s time to take another look at our leaders, not harass our reporters.

It’s a tough time to be an aspiring journalist when attacks are on the rise and print is falling out of fashion, but the Free Spirit Conference gave me hope.  I spent a week with 50 other young, passionate and talented journalists who care deeply about free press and the future of journalism.

These young people are the voices of our generation.  We are your future authors, reporters and politicians.  Many are already leaders in our schools or communities. Leslie Visser called us the “Parkland generation” in a speech she gave at the Newseum that week, and it’s a title I’m proud to take on.  We are a generation for change, a generation that will not stand down.