The dictionary definition of civic-mindedness refers to the “actions, activities or individuals that are motivated by or that show concern for the public good or humanity as a whole.” In other words, a civic-minded person is willing to participate in activities that benefit their communities, such as volunteering, donating, and/or speaking out about issues and causes they’re passionate about.
After an incredibly divisive year of hyper-polarized political discourse, skyrocketing rates of harassment and violence against journalists, and the distortion of reality through “fake news” and inflammatory rhetoric, we’d like to ask all First Amendment Voice members and supporters to join us in rebuilding a sense of national unity through small acts of civic-minded kindness in their communities. If you’re onboard with making America kind again, then here are some of the many ways you can be more civic-minded in the new year:
Use Your Voice
As we discussed at our National Symposium in 2018, your voice matters! Whether this involves spreading the word about an important cause in your community or gathering support for political organizations via social media, there is no limit on the number of ways you can use your voice as a platform promoting respect and kindness towards all Americans.
Perhaps you could also constructively engage in controversial discussions by researching different perspectives from credible sources beforehand, learning more about logical fallacies, and being willing to listen to arguments and individuals you disagree with, rather than talking over them or refusing to engage simply because you have different perspectives.
Volunteer for a Cause You Care About
What are you truly passionate about? For instance, are you concerned about the state of press freedoms in the U.S. and abroad? Are you worried about the future of freedom of expression online? Or what about other causes with significant consequences (and public controversies), such as climate change, gun control, public health, and affordable housing?
No matter what your favorite causes may be, there are always opportunities for civic-minded individuals to get more involved in advocacy efforts through volunteering. If you’ve volunteered on and off for an organization or two in the past, then make this the year in which you commit to regularly volunteering for a nonprofit that aligns with your activist goals and ideals for American society.
Donate to Those Who Truly Need It
If you’re too busy with work and family obligations to volunteer more often, then consider contributing financially instead. There are so many worthy causes that deserve more funding to continue their ongoing efforts to improve the lives of less-fortunate individuals in your local community, as well as helping certain groups on the national level.
If First Amendment freedoms are also important to you, then consider donating to First Amendment Voice to help us protect our most treasured Constitutional rights in 2019 and beyond.
I wanted to share a theme, more of a feeling, that many of you probably experienced over the Thanksgiving holiday. That feeling was one of gratitude. I felt grateful for the opportunity to not only spend a wonderful dinner with family, but also to share a hiking and camping adventure with my son on Catalina Island. Given that Rob is now a working guy, Thanksgiving weekend was one of the few times during the year when he had four days off. Since the weather would also probably cooperate with us, we decided to hike the Trans Catalina Trail. Catalina Island lies 45 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.
Early Thanksgiving morning, Rob and I boarded a ferry bound for Avalon, the main town on the island. While that day would be arduous, we persevered through ten miles of mountainous terrain to make it to Blackjack campsite just before sunset. No leg of the remainder of the hike would challenge us like that. Gratefully, we feasted on a BBQ dinner and fell asleep early as a little rain drifted in. During the next three days, we enjoyed incredible sunsets, starlit nighttime skies, and raw nature. Wild bison surprised us, one of us walked into a cactus and needed some patching up, and shared hardship bonded us. While we both missed church that Sunday, we enjoyed a spiritual experience in nature that helped us reflect on the past year and dream about the next.
First Amendment Voice is looking forward to 2019 with gratitude, hoping that we can continue creating inclusive conversations that allows citizens to come together to bridge divides in our country. We hope you continue engaging with us as we educate and advocate for free expression, being able to freely practice our religions, press freedom, and the rights to assemble and petition government for change. We are thankful for your active participation in our Republic and hope you will help us inspire others to engage in the public square.
How many options do you have when it comes to choosing an Internet service provider (ISP) for your home? If you’re like millions of Americans, you might only have access to one ISP. Or perhaps you have the option of 2 ISPs offering slow Internet speeds; the FCC’s own research has found that 55% of developed census blocks have no providers offering 100 Mbps internet speeds.
If you’ve followed the debate over net neutrality laws over the past year, then you likely already know that ISPs and the services they provide consumers are deeply intertwined with the First Amendment. What you might not know is that many of the prominent arguments coming out recently are in favor of the Internet service providers’ free speech rights, which are often viewed as conflicting with citizens’ free speech rights.
To give you a refresher on the current situation, let’s examine how the First Amendment impacts business operations and public perceptions surrounding ISPs:
As mentioned previously, millions of Americans only have access to one ISP in their area. This effectively creates a monopoly, as Internet access has become an essential household necessity, and only one company is available to provide that service in countless communities across the U.S.
Net neutrality laws classified Internet services as Title II public utilities and forbade ISPs from prioritizing certain websites over others. Without those laws, consumers are increasingly unable to readily access content from their favorite websites because ISPs are now in control over how fast webpages load (if they load at all). Prominent individuals like Justice Kavanaugh have consistently argued against net neutrality on the basis that it presumably violates ISPs rights to freedom of expression, but what about consumers’ First Amendment rights?
The battle of net neutrality may not end any time soon, but there’s another battle happening in the world of American ISPs right now: The rise of government-owned and operated ISPs. The FCC commissioner recently argued that community-owned broadband services represent a threat to free speech rights in the U.S., but several research studies have shown that community broadband is typically cheaper and more reliable than commercial ISPs, so how is this a loss for consumers?
The debates over net neutrality and community vs. commercial ISPs are far from over, but at the end of the day it’s important to ask ourselves this crucial question: When in conflict, should we be more concerned with for-profit Internet service providers’ rights to freedom of speech or American citizens/Internet users’ rights to freedom of speech?
Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter who focused a great deal of his work on the Middle East (and Saudi Arabia in particular), was recently killed in the line of his journalistic duties. However, media explanations and political narratives surrounding his death have created a great deal of confusion both in the U.S. and abroad.
Regardless of how this situation concludes, a serious implication has emerged from what increasingly referred to as a scandal: the freedom of the press is even less “free” than we previously assumed, particularly when a well-known journalist reporting for an internationally-recognized news organization faces the same, unfortunate demise as hundreds of other dissident publishers in countries around the world.
Khashoggi’s death ought to be a somber reminder to citizens around the world that the practices of kidnapping, torturing and killing journalists are not exclusive to small countries with authoritarian regimes. Violence against journalists is increasingly commonplace in today’s society, and without these media gatekeepers holding power accountable (because they’re literally dying for doing this crucial job), who elsewill hold our political leaders responsible to citizens?
What other implications does Khashoggi’s death hold for the future of the free press in the U.S. and abroad? Let’s unpack what’s happening in the status quo:
Journalists Are in Danger
Between 1992 and 2018, over 1,320 journalists worldwide have been killed while on the job, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. While some of these deaths involved journalists reporting from dangerous regions, some, like Khashoggi, have been murdered by people who [violently] disagree with the subject matters and angles these journalists write about.
It doesn’t help matters that President Trump recently praised a politician for body-slamming a journalist in Montana. During a time when harassment (physical and digital) and violence against journalists is on the rise, it’s imperative that citizens remain committed to civil, nonviolent discourse instead of encouraging and even applauding acts of physical violence against those with whom they disagree.
We Must Protect Our Free Press
Kashshoggi’s death does not have to spell doom for the future of the free press in the U.S. and abroad. As tragic as this event was, it also serves as an important reminder to the public that we must reinforce respect for the free press, both at home and abroad. Even when we disagree with or feel offended by something published by a reporter and/or news organization, harassment and violence is never the answer – rational discourse and a mindset of “let’s agree to disagree” are paramount.
To uphold our First Amendment freedoms – for everyday citizens and hardworking journalists alike – visit our website to learn more about what we’re doing to preserve First Amendment right for all.
“Speech is powerful. It’s the lifeblood of democracy, a precondition for the discovery of truth, and vital to our self-development. But speech is also dangerous. It can corrupt democracy, enable or incite crime, encourage enemies, and interfere with government.”
Those words were written Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz in their 2014 book on the Robert’s Court, Uncertain Justice. We see examples of their analysis before us each and every day.
Over the course of the last couple of years, I had the pleasure of dining in an intimate environment with Jamal Khashoggi. I always came away with new insights about the Middle East, and in particular, trends within Saudi Arabia. He had an insider’s perspective as he spoke truth to power from self-imposed exile in Virginia. Journalism today has become more dangerous. It has always been dangerous. A friend and Getty Images photojournalist, Chris Hondros, embedded with my units about ten times while I served in Iraq. Chris didn’t make it back from covering the Libyan conflict in 2011. Another colleague, Regis LeSommier, with Paris Match, has interviewed Bashar al Assad twice in the last few years. In order for the world to understand what is going on in dark corners of humanity, we need intrepid journalists willing to risk their lives in order to get the story.
However, the climate in the United States has gone from loss of confidence in public institutions, the media being one, to hostility in some circles. This has led to attacks on media organizations. Of course, journalists, and media organizations exhibit bias. All human beings do. But we should resist the urge to demonize journalists and the organizations they represent. Media organizations that have shifted from more objective, fact based reporting to opinion have done so based on market conditions. That’s what we, as Americans, have asked for. While we talk a good talk in terms of just wanting the news, neuroscientists have documented the effects of seeking self-affirming sources of information. We like it when we believe we are right. Reading or hearing a story that confirms our own preconceived narratives feels good.
FAV is happy to continue our coffee talk program that provides a forum for civil discussion about press freedom and other pressing First Amendment issues. If you would like to learn more about coffee talks or host one, please reach out. We would love to promote more opportunities for citizens to come together and explore ideas relevant in your community.
Yours in service,
Steve Miska and the FAV Team
Didn’t get a chance to attend last month’s National Symposium in Philadelphia? Watch newly released videos on our YouTube channel to get a sense for the experience that participants enjoyed. Don’t forget to Subscribe.
According to the Student Press Law Center, a 1969 Supreme Court decision contended that, “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.” Since this proclamation was made, there have nevertheless remained many obstacles for student journalists in high schools across the U.S.
In some cases, the administrators prevail due to First Amendment exemptions for private schools, as the law may only prohibit public school officials from suppressing students’ free speech and press freedoms. School-sponsored publications may also be subjected to censorship in some cases, but it varies from situation to situation.
Do you believe the First Amendment should apply equally to student journalists at the high school level as it does to professional journalists? Let’s explore what’s going on in the status quo:
In 1988, the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision allowed administrators to censor some school-sponsored content at their own discretion. For instance, school yearbooks have been subjected to censorship practices with the justification that they are “non-public forums,” and thus, not protected by the First Amendment.
Compared to student journalists at public colleges and universities, high school student journalists ultimately have fewer legal protections and face significantly more censorship when they attempt to publish potentially controversial material in their school newspapers and other publications.
Attempts to Limit Student Reporting Efforts
There have been many attempts by administrators to completely censor, alter or restrict high school journalists’ reporting efforts. For example, high schoolers in Vermont recently fought for their First Amendment freedoms when an interim principal tried to censor a report about a guidance counselor who had falsified student transcripts, intimidated employees, and revealed a student’s private information to another party without the student’s prior knowledge and consent.
This is just one of many instances of administrators trying to prevent their students from engaging in their First Amendment freedoms. Do you believe that high schoolers should have the same free press rights as their professional counterparts? The legal battles are far from over, but time and politics will determine if youth ought to have equal access to their First Amendment rights as adult journalists do.
The Third Annual National Symposium took place at the National Constitution Center on September 15th in the City of Philadelphia under the theme “E Pluribus Unum or Divided?” exploring what unites us as a country and where social divisions might be widening.
The National Constitution Center hosted the symposium for the 3rd year in a row. Morning sessions hosted panel discussions on social divisions as they relate to the First Amendment. A working lunch addressed ways in which we can engage in civil dialogue both as students and non-students. During the afternoon, the forum spotlighted the NFL Kneeling Controversy in a Town Hall forum debate with a veteran, NFL football player and other perspectives featured.
Why does “fake news” get so much attention in the press these days? Tabloids and media rumors have been around for centuries, but the spread of “fake news” is a relatively recent phenomenon that has become a serious problem thanks to the instantaneous sharing capabilities of email, texts and social media.
Is “fake news” as big a threat to our First Amendment freedoms as some people proclaim it to be? Let’s unpack the potential implications:
Freedom of the Press
During a time when newspapers and other media organizations are struggling to stay afloat financially, it’s increasingly concerning to witness how fake news stories with clickbait headlines are getting more engagement and shares on social media than legitimate news stories. This poses a serious threat to the freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment because fake news stories distort public perceptions about real-life events, which has led to problematic consequences such as:
Increased public distrust of media organizations
Lower subscription rates for credible news outlets
Higher rates of censorship, harassment and even violence against journalists
Alarming incidents of people acting upon fake news stories, such as the infamous “Pizzagate” scandal
Unfounded “Fake News” Accusations
Another major concern related to fake news and the First Amendment is the prominence of politicians, corporate executives, and other societal leaders referring to news stories they disagree with as “fake news,” regardless of the truthful nature of the story in question. By dismissing unfavorable news stories as “fake,” these individuals — many of whom have large followings on social media and in real life — are contributing to negative public sentiment towards journalists and media organizations.
Furthermore, discrediting news stories and/or organizations by labeling them as “fake” is making it increasingly difficult for members of society to discern between fact, “alternative facts,” and fiction. This only furthers public mistrust in otherwise highly credible news outlets and allows an individual’s persuasiveness to outweigh factual reporting published by diligent journalists.
To help combat the growing issue of fake news in our society, be sure to read through FactCheck.org’s guidelines for detecting fake news stories before sharing a questionable news story on social media or dismissing something you disagree with as “fake news.”
Michel Faulkner speaks on the NFL kneeling controversy panel at the 3rd annual National Symposium in Philadelphia
Many FAV supporters had the privilege of interacting with experts from the first amendment space in Philadelphia during our national Symposium, in addition to meeting lots of people interested in civil discourse. After Dr. Wilson Goode, the first African American Mayor of Philadelphia, provided a thought provoking keynote address, the opening plenary panelists explored the contours of first amendment trends on college campuses, in the media, and through the lenses of technology and social media. These nonpartisan experts agreed that America’s current state of political polarization could not be addressed with technological fixes or government involvement. They concluded that we as citizens needed to develop political and social paths forward to resolve some of the most vexing challenges facing our country. So, how do we do that?
After our breakout trainers provided tools for civic engagement, Kern Beare, Founder of Pop the Bubble, demonstrated how to engage in a “Difficult Conversation,” and Janessa Gans Wilder, Founder and Executive Director of the Euphrates Institute, led students on a journey of self-exploration to determine what in their personal stories shaped their current perspectives of the world. Following the Symposium, Kern led several Difficult Conversation workshops in the DMV area, including Capitol Hill on September 18th, Frederick, Maryland on September 27th, and Arlington, Virginia on September 28th. We seem to have a thirst for understanding how to bridge divides in our society. The partisan rhetoric alienates many people from wanting to engage in the public square. However, when we host events that establish norms of first seeking to understand andlisten, people tend to be willing to take the risk of venturing forth.
FAV will continue to collaborate in this space and is currently in discussions with strategic partners to bring our programming to the west coast. Don’t worry, we’ll return to Philly and DC, as well. Look for more opportunities to experience meaningful dialogue around sensitive issues like the conversation we hosted in Philadelphia. Kern moderated a discussion on the NFL Kneeling issue between Reverent Michel Faulkner, a former Jets Defensive Lineman, Scott Cooper, a retired Marine officer, and Mr. Alan Inman, a decade’s long leader and organizer in African American communities and Senior Advisor to the Global Peace Foundation. Speakers demonstrated civility to each other, as well as, audience members who asked questions or contributed to the discussion. Stay tuned for similar programming in future FAV events! The experience can be uplifting and contribute to healing some of the divisions within our present discourse.
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Yours in service,
Steve Miska and the FAV Team
3rd Annual First Amendment Voice National Symposium Highlights
Many people have been getting fired from their jobs recently due to content they posted on their personal social media accounts. Some of the well-known instances of someone losing a job due to their expressions on social media include:
Former Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was fired for 2008-2009 era tweets containing offensive messages about race, women, the Holocaust and 9/11.
Former PR executive Justine Sacco, “jokingly” tweeted about not getting AIDS during a trip to Africa because she was white (she was fired before her plane landed after the tweet went viral).
A former nurse in Texas was fired for violating HIPAA by posting about a patient with measles in an anti-vaccination group in which she was a member.
There are many other instances of people losing their jobs over social media posts, but does this actually violate their rights to freedom of speech and expression? Let’s unpack some of the First Amendment issues at hand:
Free Speech in a Private Workplace
As the American Bar Association points out, “if this use of economic power to punish speech sounds un-American, remember that the First Amendment limits only the government’s ability to suppress speech.” This means that individuals employed by private companies could be subjected to restrictive social media policies as conditions for their continued employment and possibly fired for posting anything that could hurt the company’s reputation — even if you don’t post anything about the company or people working there at all.
Union members may have greater freedom when it comes to posting whatever they want on social media without fearing retribution from an employer due to union negotiations and contracts prohibiting the termination of an employee for reasons related to social media activity. However, this is not guaranteed and if you’re considered an “at-will” employee, then the First Amendment likely will not protect you if you’re fired as a result of something you posted or even shared on social media.
Free Speech for Public Employees
Since public employees work for the government, most of them are given full First Amendment rights to freedom of speech in the workplace and beyond. As WorkplaceFairness.org explains, public employees can generally not be terminated from their positions unless their speech relates to a matter of “public concern”. But even this is a murky gray area that courts have yet to adequately and thoroughly define.
Watch What You Post on Social Media
To minimize the possibility of losing your job over what you post on social media, there are a few things you should do to lower your risk of retaliation:
Delete any old posts that could be considered inflammatory or offensive.
Limit how far back people can view your posts on your social profiles.
Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t want to see connected to your name.
Increase your social media privacy and security settings.
Review your employer’s social media policy for employees (if one exists).
“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.”