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Student Handout

HISTORICAL CONTEXT:

The Founding Fathers felt strongly about a free press. Notes from the federal constitutional convention reveal that there was not much discussion on the need to protect those rights, because most took it as a given. However, the framers of the Bill of Rights had a narrow view of the extent of protections for freedom of the press, limited to political discussion and a concern over libel or slander of a public figure. Issues that surround freedom of the press today, such as leaks, threats to national security, revealing reporters' sources, or even political bias, were not considered at that time. Over the years, various acts of legislation and court decisions have affected the freedom of the press and added complexities and different interpretations. Review the First Amendment, the following quotations from some of the nation's founders about freedom of the press, and the summaries of related laws and court decisions. These provide background to assist in the preparation of your amicus brief.

First Amendment: 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. (Ratified 1791)

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed."

Thomas Jefferson

 

"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freedom of speech."

Benjamin Franklin

 

"Nothing could be more irrational than to give the people power, and to withhold from them information without which power is abused. A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with power which knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both."

James Madison

 

"When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe."

Thomas Jefferson