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OP-ED: Union Leader NH Voices

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 9th, 2019

NH Voices: Bryant ‘Corky’ Messner — Time for 1st Amendment refresher
Union Leader, 12/9/19

I RECENTLY had the privilege of attending the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications’ First Amendment Award event, which recognizes First Amendment freedoms and distinguished honorees who have championed those freedoms.

This annual event also pays tribute to the spirit and tenacity of the woman who founded this impressive institution.

Nackey Loeb was a tireless champion of the freedom of the press, but also worked on behalf of the First Amendment’s other guarantees: that the government shall not establish an official church, and citizens can worship as they please; freedom of speech; the right to peaceably assemble; and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

The Nackey Loeb School’s award event serves as a reminder that the First Amendment has never been more important and more vital to our nation and its citizenry — and what better time to learn more about its meaning?

Our fractured, often mean-spirited political, cultural and social landscape provides ample evidence that free speech and a free press, as well as our other First Amendment rights, are under siege.

College campuses that once were free-speech zones are now populated by students and faculty who rally against visiting speakers they don’t agree with and against any ideas that they find personally offensive.

Anyone posting a different viewpoint online is quickly set upon by a bullying social media mob, and “separation of church and state” has become a rallying cry for those who would drive religion from American life.

Perhaps we as citizens should be reminded of the First Amendment’s intent, and why our Founding Fathers considered it so critical to the new nation and its citizens.

Sadly, too few Americans have a working knowledge or understanding of our guiding principles, perhaps because the study of American history and our government’s framework is on the wane in our schools and daily lives.

A 2012 study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University found that only nine states administered high-school tests regarding American government and only two of them required students to pass in order to graduate.

Only about one-quarter of Americans can name the three branches of government, and a more recent survey of 2,000 adults conducted by market researcher One Poll found that most of us don’t know what rights are protected in the Bill of Rights, how many amendments are included and half of those surveyed thought “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness” — only cited in the Declaration of Independence — are included in the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. (And 20 percent didn’t even know about the Bill of Rights at all!)

As an Army captain, I served in West Germany during the Cold War and witnessed firsthand the chilling effects of a totalitarian regime that stifled personal freedoms.

What I saw of life behind the Iron Curtain provided ample evidence of demoralized, disillusioned populations that were not allowed to speak what was on their minds, access a free press or worship as they chose.

Institutions like the Nackey Loeb School of Communications and its focus on the First Amendment provides us with a much-needed refresher course.

It’s high time we all better understand our freedoms and how we can use them as the basis for a free, open society, one that ensures our future prosperity as a people and as a nation.

Nackey Loeb’s legacy and the school that honors her memory and her mission remind us that the First Amendment was designed to provide a strong foundation for our republic, and the freedoms it guarantees do not drive us apart, but instead can encourage civil discourse of the issues that divide us as well as reinforce what we all share as Americans.

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