The unprecedented success of the United States, sustained for more than 243 years, certainly has many causes. For one, a people who believe in freedom, equality and following the law is crucial. Without a populace who respects those ideals, any rules the government makes to try to promote them aren’t going to work in the long run.
And the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine has helped prevent or stop abuses of authority by any individual, as has been the downfall of many other nations who have failed to achieve what America has.
Yet, in our view, the most important factor of all has been the First Amendment. As a brief civics lesson, hopefully a reminder to all citizens and not an introduction, here it is: “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.”
Those five freedoms — religion, speech, press, assembly and protest — are the very things that dictators and thugs who terrorize many other nations stomp out first. It’s because they know how important they are to a free society; therefore, when they want to squelch freedom in exchange for their own despotism, they logically take away those rights.
America has thrived because our people, elected leaders and courts have repeatedly stood up for those rights. Certainly there have been mistakes and violations of those principles, but in the big picture this nation has been able to find the right course by sticking with the ideas of freedom.
As we mark National Newspaper Week here in Mississippi and throughout the nation, it’s important to note the key role that the press, as the only industry enshrined in the First Amendment, plays in gluing all those rights together. Newspapers bring public attention to missteps by the government, ensuring that voters have the facts they need to make informed decisions about the direction of the country.
But as newspaper circulation declines, digital news outlets have failed greatly in replacing this vital service to democracy, mostly just regurgitating the most sensational stories in search of clicks and providing no local reporting of any substance. If Americans want to ensure their nation remains the shining light of freedom to a dark world, the simplest and best step they can take is subscribing to their local paper. We don’t say that selfishly, but because we truly believe in the power of the press to protect First Amendment freedoms.