Let's celebrate First Amendment, the real basis of America's greatness

2010-07-01T00:00:00Z Let's celebrate First Amendment, the real basis of America's greatnessKen Paulson Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Every July Fourth, we celebrate the Founding Fathers who gave America the gift of liberty.

Except that they didn't.

Actually, the operative word is "fathers." These gentlemen did a fine job of building a nation founded on freedom - unless you happened to be a woman, a slave or poor.

For all the poetic flourish of the Declaration of Independence, the most powerful passage in America's history can be found in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The five freedoms guaranteed there gave Americans the right to speak out against injustice, to report about inequality, to protest and petition, and to draw strength from freedom of faith.

In the centuries that followed this nation's founding, the First Amendment was used to free the slaves, extend the vote to women and ensure equal protection under the laws.

Yet despite its pivotal role in making America what it is today, there are no fireworks celebrating the First Amendment. The anniversary of its ratification on Dec. 15 goes largely unnoticed.

More tellingly, most Americans have no idea what the First Amendment says. Surveys indicate that only one American in 25 can name the freedoms of the First Amendment and that a majority - when pressed - can come up with only one, typically freedom of speech. It's constitutional illiteracy of the highest order.

The truth is that we don't do a very good job of standing up for the First Amendment. Its freedoms are truly the cornerstone of democracy and make America the special nation it is.

It's time we said that. Publicly. Passionately. Over and over again.

That's the core concept behind 1 for All, a nationwide campaign to remind the public that there's one amendment that we all use daily. And it's the one that truly guarantees freedom for all.

1 for All (www.1forall.us) is the collaborative effort of educators, artists, journalists, lawyers, librarians and many more who believe that the American public would benefit from a greater understanding of the First Amendment and the need to protect all voices, views and faiths. Thousands of news media and arts and religious organizations from all 50 states have offered their help in support of these core freedoms.

The campaign features ads that celebrate freedom in America and the ways we exercise those freedoms in our daily lives. The First Amendment gives us freedom of speech, but it also provides freedom to tweet. It protects political speeches, but it also guarantees our right to sing, dance and perform.

In fact, the First Amendment enriches our lives on a daily basis. That's the essence of 1 for All. The campaign - which will launch today - is defined by these guiding principles.

• 1 for All is nonpartisan: At a time of deep political polarization, we choose not to take sides. In fact, a shared commitment to freedom of speech, press and faith should unify this nation.

• It's all about education: America's teachers would like to do a better job of teaching about the First Amendment, but they often lack the resources they need. 1 for All will provide educational materials, course content and study guides for teachers of grades 1-12. In addition, 1 for All and its Liberty Tree Initiative will sponsor campus festivals celebrating and exploring First Amendment freedoms.

• 1 for All is interactive: There's no point in celebrating free expression without encouraging some of it. Students and others will be encouraged to submit photos, videos, songs and stories that reflect the value of freedom in America.

• The focus is on all five freedoms: America's news media are quick to defend freedom of the press and churches embrace freedom of faith, but these freedoms are interdependent and deserve the full support of all Americans. We can't pick and choose the freedoms we like.

1 for All is a celebration of the freedoms that truly make America special. It's not a coincidence that the strongest, most dynamic, most creative and most ambitious nation in the history of the planet is also the most free.

Ken Paulson is a founder of 1 for All, the president of the Newseum and First Amendment Center and the former editor of USA TODAY.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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