Veterans Day and The First Amendment

Posted by Richard Lawson | Nov 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

Happy Veterans Day!  Today is the day we celebrate and honor those, past and present, that have put their lives on the line to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

Our military protects the freedoms that we as citizens take for granted.  One of them is the right to “freedom of speech.”

The First Amendment to the United States says that: “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.”

Why is freedom of speech so important?  Free speech is vital to everyone from all walks of life.  If we did not have such freedom, we would not be able to express ourselves for fear of retribution.  Our society would become stagnant because progress and change would cease to be.  All other freedoms that we enjoy would be history.

There are places in the world where freedom to speak one's mind is not protected.  Citizens live in fear and know that if they speak out against the government, they could face harsh consequences.  Historically, some have even put to death for speaking their minds.

However, in the good old US of A, we have the First Amendment.   The Bill of Rights protects our freedom to express ourselves and say what we want as long as it is not infringing on another person's rights.

This morning I saw a story about Fulton County Georgia Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter lifting a prior restraint that he had placed on Atlanta's Fox 5 news channel regarding the APS cheating trial last Friday.

According to the AJC, Judge Baxter issued an emergency restraining order Friday afternoon regarding a news story that Fox 5 had planned to do about a witness in the school system's cheating trial.  The story was based on allegations made by a private investigator that was hired to look into allegations of cheating at APS.  The investigator, Reginald Dukes, says he was threatened via an anonymous phone call regarding his testimony.

District Attorney Paul Howard encouraged Judge Baxter to sign the TRO because he felt the story could cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to the trial and “taint the unsequestered jury.”

Fox 5's attorneys responded as expected and cited that prior restraints are unconstitutional.   They suggested that instead, Judge Baxter should “instruct the jurors to follow their oaths” and emphasize their duties.

“What is this prior restraint,” you say?

Prior restraint prohibits expression or speech BEFORE it can even take place.  Anyone remember the Pentagon Papers case of 1971?  Okay, I was only two years old but President Richard Nixon's administration wanted to keep the New York Times and Washington Post from releasing parts of a classified study about the US and our involvement in Vietnam.  They felt this information could damage national security interests, but the Supreme Court disagreed.   They felt the administration's move to block these publications equaled to an unconstitutional prior restraint.

In the case of the Fulton County APS trial, Judge Baxter and DA Paul Howard violated the right of free press when they sought to unconstitutionally prevent Fox 5 from reporting news to the public.

I am stunned that a respected Superior Court Judge could so blazingly attempt tp violate the First Amendment.  Clearly, he must have thought about it over the weekend and came to his senses Monday morning.

Take some time today to refIect on what Veterans Day means.  Most of us know a veteran.   Take some time today to thank them (and others you may encounter) for their service.  Don't take them or the freedoms you enjoy for granted!

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Richard Lawson

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