Counterman v. Colorado and Suicide Prevention Month: How The First Amendment Shapes Mental Health Discourse and Empowers Change

Counterman v. Colorado and Suicide Prevention Month: How The First Amendment Shapes Mental Health Discourse and Empowers Change

Written By: Hunter Vaughan and Giannina Griggs (FAV’s Communications Coordinator and Membership Director)

September is Suicide Prevention Month, a time when we turn our attention to an issue that affects countless lives but often remains shrouded in silence. At First Amendment Voice, we are passionate about promoting First Amendment values, which include free expression, open dialogue, and the power of voices and our mission is to encourage civil discourse and active civic engagement. This month, we want to highlight how these values play a crucial role in the fight against suicide and the promotion of mental health.

Counterman v. Colorado: An Important Precedent

You may be curious as to how Suicide Prevention Month relates to the First Amendment. According to the ACLU, in the Supreme Court Case Counterman v. Colorado, the Supreme Court ruled that “in true threats cases the First Amendment requires the government to prove that the defendant acted with a culpable mental state, and not merely that his words were objectively threatening.”

One of the most important aspects of this case appears to be the precedent set, specifically in reference to how we define “recklessness” when addressing free speech of the First Amendment. This precedent directly impacts those with mental health issues. The defining of “recklessness” allows for intention and mental capacity to be proven or disproven in court, meaning individuals with mental incapacities will not be wrongfully prosecuted or convicted, should it be proven that there is no ill intention or that the individual does not have the capacity to determine ill intention on their own. This also results in the inability of individuals to use mental illness as an excuse when ill-intent and recklessness are present.

This precedent also has heavy social and cultural implications. By setting guidelines of “recklessness” and not allowing mental health to be used as an excuse, this allows for the seriousness of genuine mental health issues to be re-established. In essence, it avoids individuals to use self-diagnosis or untruthful mental diagnoses. This creates a genuine consensus within the court that true mental health issues may be proven and then addressed as seriously as other issues which cause incapacity in individuals.

Breaking the Silence

The First Amendment guarantees our right to speak our minds, even on the most challenging and uncomfortable topics. Mental health and suicide are subjects that have long been stigmatized and pushed into the shadows. However, when we utilize the power of free expression, we can break the silence surrounding these issues.

Sharing personal stories, discussing mental health challenges openly, and engaging in empathetic conversations about suicide are all vital steps toward reducing stigma and increasing understanding. By doing so, we create an environment where individuals feel safe to seek help and support.

Fostering Empathy and Support

Empathy is a cornerstone of First Amendment values. When we actively listen to the experiences of those who have faced mental health challenges or contemplated suicide, we cultivate empathy and compassion. It’s a reminder that behind every statistic is a human being with a unique story and struggle.

As advocates for the First Amendment, we believe in the power of community. By fostering a sense of togetherness and support, we can help those in need find the strength to overcome their challenges. Together, we can provide hope and a sense of belonging, which are often lifelines for individuals grappling with thoughts of suicide.

Promoting Access to Resources

The First Amendment also gives us the freedom to share information and resources openly. During Suicide Prevention Month, it’s essential to provide individuals with access to the tools and support they need. This can include information about mental health services, crisis hotlines, and online communities where they can connect with others who understand their struggles.

As a society, we can use our collective voices to ensure that everyone knows where to turn when they or someone they care about is in crisis. Information is a powerful tool, and it can save lives.

Joining the Conversation

At First Amendment Voice, we encourage you to join the conversation during Suicide Prevention Month and beyond. Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • Share Your Story: If you have a personal experience with mental health challenges or suicide, consider sharing your story. Your words can provide hope and comfort to others.
  • Engage on Social Media: Connect with your community and share resources and stories that promote understanding and empathy.
  • Support Local Organizations: Reach out to local mental health organizations and nonprofits in your community to see how you can contribute to their efforts.

By embracing First Amendment values and using our voices, we can help create a society where mental health challenges are met with compassion, understanding, and resources. Together, we can break the silence surrounding suicide and, most importantly, save lives.

Thank you for being a part of the First Amendment Voice community and for joining us in supporting Suicide Prevention Month. Let’s use our voices to make a difference.

ACLU Article With Access To Court Documents: https://www.aclu.org/cases/counterman-v-colorado

Learning to Speak Up

Learning to Speak Up

by Nyanda Walker-Potts, FAV Communications Intern

 It is common to see the news full of protesters and activists who stand up and speak out, and it seems like it is easy for them. They are full of passion and the desire to make a change. It is inspiring and impressive and it makes the person watching feel like they can do anything.

Realistically, however, it is not that simple. Sure, when you see the story about people being honest and making a change, there’s a part of you that wants to experience the same thing. There is a bigger part, nevertheless, at least for some of us, that wants the change, but not the attention.

How do we make that work then? How do we advocate for better things if we do not like the attention? If we are naturally quiet and introverted people? If we say nothing, then nothing gets done, but the idea of speaking up is very uncomfortable. What do we do?

Assertiveness is important and necessary. Not just in civic engagement, but in life. A person’s biggest advocate is going to be themself. If you can’t take up for yourself, who is going to do it?

These are things that I have discovered about assertiveness. It is absolutely a process, and it is not easy, but it is important to be able to state your needs/wants in all settings. You can be an introvert and still be assertive. Being honest about things does not mean you are not being true to yourself. It might seem weird or uncomfortable, but there are steps you can take to make yourself more assertive. With that being said, in the nature of honesty and advocacy, here are a few tips that helped me to increase my assertiveness.

1. Determine how you communicate. To start, it is important to identify your communication style. There are plenty of ways to say something, and it will help make you more comfortable if you are aware of how you come off to others. There are four main styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Figure out the way that you communicate so that you can plan the uncomfortable conversation accordingly. Stay aware of your tone so that things do not come off differently than how you mean them.

2. Be honest. There is a sense of relief that comes with being honest about the way someone or something makes you feel. The truth of the matter is that if you are not honest about how you feel, people probably are not aware.

3. Be patient. This is an all-encompassing tip. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with the person you are talking to. Be patient with the business you are trying to get a hold of. Change can take time.

4. Be compassionate. It is easy to become angry or annoyed when you are talking to someone who feels differently than you, or who does not understand where you are coming from. It is much better for everyone, however, if you come from a place of compassion. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and keep in mind that we are all human.

5. Be heard. I know that I mentioned patience a few steps back, and I still stand with the fact that it is important. However, patience does not mean passivity. Do not let things go if you want them to change. Do not let the length of time things take steer you away from speaking up. Change is hard, but it’s worth it. Make sure they hear you.

All in all, advocacy is not easy. It takes courage and time and patience, and sometimes it is just easier to say nothing; especially when you don’t really want to say something in the first place. Conversations can be difficult, but difficult conversations lead to impactful change. Don’t let your uncomfortableness steer you to complacency. Be an advocate. You can absolutely do it.

The Importance of Religious Diversity in Healing the Nation

The Importance of Religious Diversity in Healing the Nation

by Rev. Dr. Paul McCullough

 

I am a Christian man. I’ve believed in God for as long as I can possibly remember and I can’t imagine my life without God in the middle of it. This is never something I wanted to hide, but my religious persuasion is now abundantly clear to anyone who receives written correspondence from me, as the title of “Reverend” has preceded my name for the last three years. My hope is that when people see this credential, they would know that I am person that believes in hope, forgiveness, and love. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that so many people have been the victim of hurtful words or actions from those who profess to be Christians, that my designation can sometimes push people away without me ever saying a word.

Since 595 BC, wars have been fought and blood has been shed in the name of religion. Including during the time of Jesus, people have been obsessed with following religious laws, rather than a relationship with the God of the universe. I do not believe this is what God intended for us. Do I believe the exact same things as people who practice their faith differently? No, of course not, but this does not mean that I cannot show them love. In fact, I have multiple friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. Although there have occasionally been times when we disagree about certain aspects of our faith, people of all faiths should be able to agree on the goodness and value of the most basic human emotion – love. On occasion, when people speak bad about me because of my faith, I remember the words of Jesus, “If you only love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

Our nation has become painfully divided in many areas, but one of the clearest lines of demarcation is that of faith. In this digital age of TikTok videos and viral social media posts, it has become far too easy to make hateful comments and go about your business. However, I suggest there is a better way. When a person has a different opinion than you, look for common ground. Find something to love about that person and actively work to unite with that individual, rather than place a wedge between you.

Our country has some deeply rooted problems that have existed for generations. I believe we can only solve these problems when we stop focusing on what divides us, whether that is our religious or political beliefs, and instead utilize our varied backgrounds, personalities, and abilities as a source of strength. Throughout my time in the military, I’ve had the great privilege of serving with people of all faiths. All that mattered is that the person to your left and right would “have your back” in combat. Let’s do the same in civil society to bring about healing.

Vet The Vote: How Veterans are Choosing to Serve their Country, Again

Vet The Vote: How Veterans are Choosing to Serve their Country, Again

Vet The Vote: How Veterans and Families are Choosing to Serve their Country, Again

First Amendment Voice recently partnered with Vet The Vote and nearly twenty other organizations—including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, NFL, National Military Family Association, and Student Veterans of America, to name a few. We were inspired to join this coalition for two key reasons: 1) to preserve fair and peaceful elections in the U.S. in the 2022 midterms and beyond, and 2) to continue showcasing the enormous impact that veterans and their families have on American democratic institutions and processes. 

What is Vet The Vote?

Vet The Vote is a project of the We the Veterans Foundation and in 2022, the goal is to recruit over 100,000 veterans and their family members to serve as poll workers for the upcoming midterm elections. This is absolutely critical, since more than 130,000 poll workers have stopped serving over the past three midterm elections and 68% of election officials across the U.S. found it challenging to secure enough poll workers in the 2018 midterm elections. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center reported that 58% of poll workers during the 2018 elections were 61+ years of age.

What all of this means is that our democracy is more at risk than we might think. Poll workers are essential to maintaining fair and free elections. Some of the many responsibilities they fulfill include:

  • Checking in and assisting voters with any questions or concerns they may have
  • Ensuring there are adequate supplies for all voters, as well as accommodations for disabled voters (e.g., page magnifiers, wheelchair ramps)
  • Processing absentee ballots
  • Maintaining voter privacy
  • Requesting the removal of disruptive poll observers

 

In polling places with too few workers, there could be excessively long lines (which could turn people away from voting entirely) or even lead to the shutdown of the polling place in the event of a severe short-staffing issue. 

Short-staffed polling places are problematic for urban and rural voters alike. In populous urban areas, the wait time may be longer than the time remaining to vote before the poll closes, especially later in the day when many people go to vote after work. In less-populated rural areas, some people may need to drive for miles just to access a polling place, which can disproportionately impact low-income voters who may have limited means of transportation.

With these troubling consequences in mind, what better way to ensure the right to vote is protected than having veterans serve as poll workers? The vast majority of veterans have already served in nonpartisan ways and understand the importance of service in their communities. Maintaining the security and integrity of our elections now and in the future has never been more important, and American veterans are well-equipped for this task. You can support Vet The Vote by signing up to be a poll worker or donating to We the Veterans Foundation.

2022 National Symposium Panel on Veterans

Additionally, we have a programming scheduled for our 2022 National Symposium in September on the role of veterans in civic engagement. Will you be in the Philadelphia area on September 24th? Please consider joining us at the National Constitution Center. Register here 

In addition to our partnership with Vet The Vote, First Amendment Voice also had an outstanding panel on the role of veterans in depolarization during our 2021 National Symposium. You can listen to the full panel on our YouTube page here.

FAV is launching a new series on our YouTube channel exploring the difference between civics and politics and our role as a civic organization. Watch our latest video in the series in which our executive director discusses our partnership with Vet The Vote as an example of civic engagement in action.

Want to Get More Involved in Your Community? Start with These Volunteering Resources

Want to Get More Involved in Your Community? Start with These Volunteering Resources

We know there are many research-backed benefits to volunteering, but it can be challenging to find new ways to get more involved in our communities while balancing other personal and professional obligations. In the spirit of our upcoming Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship ceremony, this blog post will review some awesome resources for volunteers – and we invite you to share some of your favorite resources in the comments section below!   

Where to Find New Volunteer Opportunities 

City or County Websites: Many local government websites around the U.S. include designated sections for civic engagement opportunities.  

VolunteerMatch: Over 135,000 nonprofit organizations use the VolunteerMatch portal to recruit participants for both in-person and virtual volunteering opportunities. Since the platform was founded in 1998, it has connected more than 16 million people to volunteer gigs around the world. You can find a wide variety of volunteer options on VolunteerMatch’s website by searching for either specific causes to support or skills you can offer in a voluntary role. 

Volunteers of America: This nonprofit organization was founded in 1896 for the purpose of helping vulnerable citizens access basic living necessities like housing and healthcare. Today, more than 60,000 volunteers support the organization’s human service programs in more than 400 communities across the U.S. You can get involved by contacting a local VOA office or volunteering at one of their senior living and care communities. 

Volunteer.gov: Also known as “America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal,” Volunteer.gov was established by the Bush Administration in 2002 and continues to be a fantastic resource for people seeking local, state and national volunteer opportunities. 

Valuable Readings About Volunteerism 

  • University of Kansas Community Toolbox: 

Inspiring TED Talks About Volunteering 

Lowry Award for Citizenship Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers 

The Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship recognizes the work of nonpartisan volunteers bridging divisions within their communities to promote the public good. Get ready to learn more about the positive work going on in countless communities across the country as FAV lifts up amazing community leaders and civic entrepreneurs who exemplify the following qualities: 

  • Relentless service to others 
  • Able to work across ideological differences for the common good 
  • Fearless advocate of the First Amendment principles 
  • Overcomes setbacks; strives on in the face of adversity 
  • Exhibits strategic thinking but able to translate that into results 
  • Inspirational: encourages others to give of time, talent or resources 
  • Consummate networking to connect organizations & people for community impact 

Nominations are due by March 15th to [email protected] with email title “2022 FAV Lowry Award Nomination.” You can also submit a nomination using the form linked on our home page. Learn more about the Lowry Award on our YouTube page! 

Our Opportunity to Move Forward Together

Our Opportunity to Move Forward Together

By Councilmember Chris Duncan

Reprinted with permission from Chris Duncan. This article originally was printed in San Clemente Times, (March 4, 2021).

Our natural instinct in these times is to find like-minded souls to take us in, assuage our self-doubt, and tell us the “other side” is the source of our inner turmoil.

In coffee meetings, YouTube chats, and Facebook groups, the urge is strong to sort ourselves into competing factions, all bent on protecting “us” from “them” by denigrating those who see things differently.

Fear and frustration manifest as grievance against a mythical “they” who have gained from our side’s loss. Like a drowning swimmer off Lost Winds, we pull each other under to save ourselves.

This animosity, while comforting in the short run, is not the answer. We San Clemente residents will not, and should not, agree on everything. Vigorous debate results in a better functioning democracy, because the best ideas will withstand the toughest scrutiny.

But while we may disagree with our fellow citizens on the issues, we must not assign them evil intent. That is easier said than done, especially right now. National news outlets and social media companies, which profit off our divisions, tell us the stories we want to hear, not those we need to hear, and relentlessly demonize the “opposition.”

Your neighbor is not your enemy, but it is easy to believe he or she is. I know, because I am as susceptible to making rash personal judgments as the next person. It feels soothing for an instant to vilify someone who thinks differently, or worse, label them a bad person. But personal attacks only make us feel more bitter and alone, and in the long run, corrode our public discourse.

 It doesn’t have to be this way. Each of us is responsible for changing the narrative. Our future generations are counting on us to make decisions today that will enhance our city’s prospects, not drive a wedge through it.

If we acknowledge that our own insecurities are often the source of our unease, we can avoid trying to find faults in others to make ourselves feel better. Through this acceptance, we can lift the invisible walls that separate us and come together to achieve the goals we share.

I believe we are in a unique position to make this happen. As tragic as COVID-19 has been, it has forced us to unify around beneficial practices we previously overlooked, like dining outdoors, enjoying our beautiful environment, and being more present for our kids.

As we emerge together from the pandemic, having defeated the virus and preserved our way of life through our collective diligence and mutual goodwill, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage this unity to tackle other challenges that seemed out of reach.

Stopping the toll road, saving our beaches, ending homelessness in town. These are all possible if we direct our energy toward solving the problem instead of endlessly critiquing fellow problem-solvers.

But this opportunity is fleeting. If we do not act now, it will pass us by. And a year from now, when things are back to normal, we may forget what is possible if we act in unison.

San Clemente is an extraordinary town, but I am convinced our best days are ahead of us. It is up to each and every one of us, including the five us on the city council, to release the baggage of contempt and blame, appeal to the better angels of our nature, and replace character smears with substantive, fact-driven discussion. Only then will our Spanish Village reach its full potential.

Chris Duncan is a San Clemente city councilmember who was elected in 2020.