Zansberg: On Law Day, celebrate and support a free press

The Gazette (Colorado Springs): Today is Law Day — an annual celebration of the rule of law, as declared by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. Each year, the American Bar Association selects a theme for the Law Day and this year’s theme is a particularly topical legal issue, and one near and dear to my heart: “Free Speech, Free Press, and Free Society.”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits government for “abridg[ing] the freedom . . . of the press.” Because the press has traditionally been understood to refer to a collective enterprise, this does not appear to be an individual liberty. Reporting the news, back in Benjamin’s Franklin’s day as now, requires organized teams of reporters, editors, photographers, etc. It takes more than one man or woman to be “the press.”

But the First Amendment recognizes the right of individuals to coordinate with others (“to peaceably assemble”) and to express their views (through “the freedom of speech” and “the free exercise of religion”). So, why, then, did the founders feel the need to also say “or of the Press?”

The answer is particularly appropriate to consider at this fascinating moment in our nation’s history. The rights protected by the First Amendment are in pursuit of our individual liberty to “think for ourselves,” free from any government-imposed orthodoxy (religious or otherwise) and thereby to decide our own fates. 

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