Three Vital Assumptions – in First Amendment


Vital assumptions were made by America’s Founders. Three relate to the First Amendment, which guarantees “free speech” – to help correct bad speech, “freedom of worship” – to help preserve moral fiber, and “freedom of press” – to check government. All three are under intense pressure.

Start in reverse – with freedom of press. Thomas Jefferson famously intoned, “Our freedom depends on freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Unspoken was Jefferson’s assumption that a free press would keep a rogue, unruly, or overreaching government in check.

While we still revere a free press, what is much of the press today, if not an arm of the government? This would rile Jefferson and worry him. He was no fan of those in the press who regularly savaged him when he became the nation’s third president. But he still knew the government required a check.

The three branches – especially a Congress and White House controlled by different parties – would partially check each other, and the Supreme Court (which checked Jefferson) would if above politics. But that was not enough.

Jefferson knew that government could over-grow, a fear he harbored all his life, and could become oppressive if too large, corrupt, concentrated, and unaccountable. One check on that was honest elections, another the free press.

Putting aside trust in the election process, the press was – to Jefferson – the big check on government. But the reason he vested trust in the press – and would be royally irked now – is that he assumed those in the press would always value a smaller, less intrusive, more freedom-focused government.

What he would spin at today is a press – media and social media – that seems ideologically content, if not openly supportive of, the very concentrated power that Jefferson – and the Revolutionary generation – spent their entire lives fighting against! 

What would stun Jefferson and his contemporaries – is the way in which the American press has become aligned with big government, too often aligned against independent thought and individual liberties.

He would have none of that, might now say the press is of two sorts, one check, one is complicit. His assumption that all the press is rightly critical of government and of concentrated power is out.

Second faltering assumption? That freedom of worship – by itself – would keep the electorate on solid moral ground, and thus the Republic was governed by moral leaders who got to power on the vote of moral voters.

 While more than two-thirds of the country is still adhering to tenets of faith, a moral compass much has changed. Promotors of everything from atheism and communism to irreverence and indifference, many parts of the popular culture – and a great many in politics – are everywhere.

The Founders, especially Washington, Madison, and those who shaped the First Amendment – believed that a moral America would long lead, self-correct, and stay on course. We have done that for more than two centuries. 

But today, forces are at work that suggests freedom of worship itself, will not assure a moral electorate or leadership. Just as a free press – to be effective in checking government  – must be consistently questioning the government, so freedom to worship must be reinforced by moral teaching – conscious and consistent education in the real values that have long made America a force for good. 

As Alex de Tocqueville noted, laconically – America is great because America is good; if America ever ceases to be good, she will no longer be great. That is a lesson the Founders took to heart; we must,

Third, the most essential assumption – the one behind free speech – is that Americans would be able, always and forever – to correct the unpredictable failings and false starts of their day and time through the free exchange of ideas and freedom of speech.

What does free speech require for any two people, group, town, city, state, nation, or society to be real – to fulfill the promise of self-correction and thus preservation of the Republic? We could use different words to say the same thing – but respect for the exchange of honest views, no matter how wild.

In short, if we do not continue to believe in the “social institution” of conversation, the open exchange of views which can often twist, turn, conflict, offend, distend, and invite verbal opposition, we will lose the ability to distill difference to the point of truth, self-correct, and survive.

This may be the nub of the whole thing since neither press nor worship survives either if we do not consciously begin to respect, admire, preserve, and self-correct through the art of honest conversation.

If words are not permitted, certain people, positions, and opinions are canceled, then the entire idea of a healthy, honest conversation goes away. Intimidation, fear, self-censorship, and default to the silence of violence becomes inevitable. That is fatal.

Why fatal? Because the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, no matter how many times repeated in the service of political this or that, is only real if words can be freely exchanged if the art of conversation is preserved, practiced, and appreciated by all.

So, we all like to talk about the Bill of Rights, or at least we are grateful it exists, but to make it real, we need to do more than repeat words of the text. We have to understand and make real vital assumptions that lie behind the guarantees—just a thought for today – and for tomorrow.

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David Millikan
9 months ago

I am a FIRM BELIEVER in the U.S. CONSTITUTION. We are the ONLY country in the World to have one.
I will NOT ever bow down or conform to ANY FASCIST liberals BS in trying to Destroy the U.S. CONSTITUTION in any way, shape, or form.
If you do not LOVE AMERICA then GET OUT and take your millions of ILLEGAL ALIENS with you. And take DICTATOR Beijing biden with you too.

9 months ago

Why can’t a media group be suied if they deliberately feed false information or bend details and facts in a report, which defames or injuries another group or causes harm? Also, why couldn’t a corporation like AMAC, on behalf of its membership file the suites? If 2M members donated $10.00 for each such lawsuite. Wouldn’t that be a torte? Anyway, food for though. There are other groups that are actively filing lawsuits against the government, state and local all the time so, why not media groups. The media should stick to facts, truth, and opinions have to be labeled as such. AFTER ALL, everyone is initialed to an opinion. Maybe it’s time for the citizens to take a stand. If we started selling off shares of stock from these media and tech companies and started directing our concerns directly to the corporations who advertise with these media groups, they may start rethinking their localities. I would be willing to bet that a lot of the AMAC members are also members of AARP. Maybe they should pull their subscription from AARP so AARP begins noticing as well. AARP has been giving a lot of money to the left because, as they explain it, they are diversifying their membership. More food for thought!

Lee S McQuillen
9 months ago
Reply to  Ty

Left AARP years ago – they sold us out when they backed Obamacare and have done nothing helpful since! I don’t care what they offer as benefits, they are not on the side of the American seniors!

Myrna Wade
9 months ago

In a time when citizens who went to the January 6 rally are arrested, and many fear that their phone calls and all communications may be retrieved by a government intent on identifying their enemies, I am thankful for AMAC. This seems to be a safe forum for conversation. Ignoring the first amendment is the only way the democrat’s agenda becomes the law.

9 months ago

Freedom of the press has been compromised, but over the many years it makes brief recoveries. “News” is a money-make (livlihood, basis of financial support, a profit-making endeavor)), so it should be no surprise that it is tainted to some degree, depending on many factors related to the “times.” It is an industry with a primary goal to make a profit for the owners. The only sure and effective way to force it to maintain the supposed quality that it touts is to not support it when it is not doing its job honestly and effectively. Don’t subscribe to it or support it in other ways if it does not do its job honestly and accurately. Yes, most present-day media outlets tend to be a handover to political propaganda …. generally defined as liberal or conservative, with extremists getting the biggest attention either way. And believe most (not all) God-loving good citizens are similarly disposed. So, if you are on the liberal side, it is necessary to lie, cheat, steal, etc to hold sway. And t sway is now in the National political control of liberals because they managed to cheat the system in a way that sway cannot easily or quickly be fixed. If the modern current conservative Americans continue to let the left-wingers to cheat and hold control e (rather than let the laws and majority concepts rule the day), this Nation will continue to morph its way to Communism.

9 months ago

Two of the assumptions discussed rely on the third. One of the big problems with the press* is that they adhere to a different moral code (a very screwed up one) based on a different set of values. For them, biased reporting is the moral thing to do. The same goes with suppressing free speech — their moral code tells them that is the moral thing to do (see all the comments along the lines of “I don’t have to tolerate intolerance” and the false labeling of things as “hate speech”).

The third assumption, a good moral code, is derived from values. The real failing is that we as a society are not pushing the right values.

One of the biggest failures is our failure to teach the value of liberty. They absolutely do not value it (except in certain arenas like drugs, sex, etc.). They value equality of outcome and that can only be done at the expense of liberty. They also value safety over liberty. The hard truth is that within a free people there will be some individuals who use their freedom to do bad things, that is one of the big costs of liberty. We have to be honest and acknowledge that cost but counter it by showing how the alternative is worse. That also gets us back to the moral code, a society (not gov’t) that strongly promotes a moral code keeps that cost of liberty to a minimum.

Prager’s phrase “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen” also works flipped around (which he acknowledges): “The smaller the citizen, the bigger the government”. “Small” citizens don’t believe in liberty, they believe in safety first, they don’t believe in self-reliance and consequences, they believe in equality of outcome — and they vote accordingly, i.e. they vote for big government.

If we teach the right values, a good moral code will follow which will in and of itself (barring an oppressive gov’t) protect free speech, the free exercise of religion and lead to a properly functioning press.

*The other big problem with the press is that in Jefferson’s day each press outlet was largely independent. Corporations have taken over the press allowing the few to exercise outsized control over the press.

9 months ago

I think the Press is under intense pressure because it has become so partisan, it’s difficult to read/hear the “news” discern whether it is propaganda (chosen at the pleasure of a political party or one or more of its members) or honest news. For example, when the son Hunter Biden lap laptop folly hit the news, it was handled seemingly with delicate light coverage by most of the main news outlets prior to and shortly after the POTUS election. Since the Presidential incompetence and obvious law breaking of Joe Hidin’ Biden & his Delunaware famiy has gradually come to reality in the minds or more middle citizens, it has become obvious that the Biden family and fellow DemocRats are so into feathering their own nests, the welfare of the Nation is taking a dive for the worse and foreign foes (i.e. Russia) are ramping up their anti-American efforts and are more pugnacious. I pray our Nation can get thru the remaining tenure of Biden with greatness intact.

9 months ago

All true, but with one correction. The First Amendment does guarantee “freedom of worship,” but “free exercise of religion.” Free worship is a part of it, but it also includes the right to live out our faith and practice it in our lives. The Democrats have tried for many years to instill the idea that it is only free worship that is protected, and, “Keep your faith out of the public square, schools, government, etc.” Their attitude is, of course, unconstitutional, because it is not only “free worship” that is protected.

Micky Finn
9 months ago

Well said. Learn forward; “Continue to match”.

9 months ago

There is a difference twixt “news” and “propaganda” and “libel.” It seems that more and more “libel” and “propaganda” is being disguised and misinterpreted as “news.” This puts a burden on the read er ‘s intelligence to sort out which is which. And in our current times, it seems that more and more “propaganda” and “libel” is being disguised as “news.” And I blame those who write and speak what they present as “news” when, if analyzed for truth, purpose, and effect, it has a root in “libel” and “propaganda.” The liberals and DemocRats are quite skilled in using this form of misrepresentation. Beware of the verity of what you take in as news. During the present times and era, it appears that true “news” is being greatly overwhelmed by “libel” and “propaganda.” Propaganda tends to ignore truth and honestly, so beware of evaluating news as such. Libel comes out of desperation and often is not based on truth. It seems to me in my estimation that a lot of so-called “news” is “propaganda” when presented in printed form or visual broadcast form. But I guess that is the emphasis of our modern culture in this Nation. Sadly, the “freedom of the press” seems to be bonded in the mode of propaganda and libel geared towards protecting the political establishment … rather than the rights of the laws of our Constitution and lower forms of governance.

9 months ago

Very well written article RBC. Just one comment. You write the press has become an arm of the government and I would respectfully suggest you should have rephrased it to say the press is an arm of the Democrat Party, which happens to control at least 90 percent of the government today. In my time in the federal government, decades ago, that percentage was a solid 75 percent in complete lockstep with Democrat ideals. Anyway, that is an important distinction, as the press is always extremely favorable and even protective of how they cover Democrats. While the press is always either derogatory or in full attack mode when covering almost all Republicans or private citizens not completely aligned with the latest views and values of the Democrat agenda.

9 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

You are correct.

9 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Paul – I have come to anticipate, relish, appreciate, and revere your comments. You are an incisive, uncompromising, and refreshingly real observer of the world. Thank you. I take the correction to heart. Fairly said, and accurate.

Old Swabby
9 months ago

Jefferson never foresaw the level of corruption the government would become. Nor, did he foresee the level of complacency and lethargy and laziness of the average citizen. That’s where we’re at today.

9 months ago
Reply to  Old Swabby

I would have to agree that none of the Founding Fathers ever envisioned the American people would become so apathetic and downright lazy, as to allow the level of both corruption in the government and the press. It’s not like any of this has happened overnight. This has been building for decades and the average citizen has chosen to be remain oblivious throughout that time frame. A nation of docile sheep shouldn’t be surprised that we’re where we are today.

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