3rd Annual First Amendment Voice National Symposium

3rd Annual First Amendment Voice National Symposium

Our national convening in the City of Philadelphia for our Third Annual National Symposium took place at the National Constitution Center on September 15th. The theme this year was “E Pluribus Unum or Divided?” as we explored what unites us as a country and where social divisions might be widening. 

The National Constitution Center was our host site 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, we spotlighted the NFL Kneeling Controversy in a Town Hall forum debate with a veteran, NFL football player and other perspectives featured.

How do filter bubbles lead to political polarization?

How do filter bubbles lead to political polarization?

48268157_MAccording to Roger McNamee, filter bubbles are the “most important [tools] used by Facebook and Google to hold user attention” because they lead to an “unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs.” In other words, filter bubbles arise from online algorithms that are tailored to each individual user based on what they have previously searched for. This may seem like a good idea for creating a more customized web browsing experience, but when it comes to politics and democracy itself, filter bubbles can have devastating consequences.

Since our upcoming National Symposium focuses on the subject of political divisions in America today, let’s explore the role online filter bubbles play in political polarization:

Shutting Out Dissent

Filter bubbles are dangerous because they create the illusion that everyone agrees with our thoughts and opinions online. If we disagree with someone’s political views on social media, we can simply block or unfollow them, which means we won’t have to read any dissenting opinions, let alone engage with others who disagree with us in any way. This is problematic because it can further entrench our values and ideas without ever having to critically question why we believe what we believe or consider alternative viewpoints.

If we are not exposed to other ideas and perspectives beyond our own beliefs, then this artificial absence of contrary evidence or opinions can trick us into thinking we must be right because no counter-argument seems to exist. In reality, we simply don’t see those counter-arguments. The algorithms that determine what we see first (or at all) in our social media and news feeds sacrifice exposure to many possible views in exchange for a highly subjective web browsing experience related to our search histories.

Be Open to New Perspectives

To avoid getting caught in a filter bubble and boost your own awareness of others’ views, it’s important to consume news and other informative content from a variety of websites and news platforms instead of only going to one source for all your information. Additionally, you should embrace opportunities to engage with others who disagree with you – online and offline – in order to understand what “the other side” believes and critically consider your own beliefs, rather than accepting them as innately true.

It’s not easy to accept the possibility that viewpoints contradicting your own could be just as valid as your views, but it’s a crucial component of becoming a well-rounded and informed citizen, rather than giving in to political polarization and attacking the “other side” just because you disagree with them. The old adage of “let’s agree to disagree” is relevant here – you may never come eye-to-eye with someone online, but rather than getting trapped in a filter bubble, actively reach out and constructively engage with others to bridge divides and begin the healing process for our deeply polarized nation.

The 3rd Annual First Amendment Voice Symposium is just around the corner

The 3rd Annual First Amendment Voice Symposium is just around the corner

44868478_MJames Madison once said, “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?” With our Founding Fathers’ wisdom in mind, we couldn’t be more excited to share new and exciting details about our upcoming national symposium with you! This year’s theme involves “E. Pluribus Unum or Divided?” – in which we’ll explore the current state of political polarization in the U.S., along with research-proven strategies and expert advice guiding discussions to help us overcome divisions amongst our fellow citizens.

What you need to know about the Symposium

This year’s symposium will take place at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We have many amazing speakers and discussion panels lined up, and you can get a head start on the event by attending our exclusive VIP reception at the Wyndham Hotel on Friday, September 14th.

Since our main focus is overcoming political divisions and developing new, constructive ways to interact with citizens in our communities and online, panels will include speeches from experts and opportunities for attendees to discuss the most pressing issues affecting our First Amendment rights. The symposium will begin at 9am and conclude at 5pm on Saturday, September 15th, so be sure to sign up today to secure your spot at this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Student can enter our Instagram contest

George Washington once said, “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

In other words, students of today are the protectors of our First Amendment freedoms in the future, which is why we want to acknowledge and reward civic-minded high school and college students for their efforts. If you are actively making a difference in your community and want to learn more about how you can preserve First Amendment rights for everyone, then you won’t want to miss our Instagram contest this year!

We’re giving away free tickets to the symposium for students who demonstrate their commitment to unity by following First Amendment Voice on Instagram and submitting photos with #FAVUnity in the caption (be sure to explain how you’re bridging divides and bringing people closer together, too!). One student grand prize winner will receive free admission to our VIP Reception at the Wyndham Hotel on Friday evening before the symposium begins, so enter our contest any time before September 1st for a chance to win big!

Plan your visit to this year’s Symposium

The 3rd annual symposium is just around the corner, so click here to sign up to attend the event. Performing our civic duties involves so much more than just voting, so come out to Philadelphia and engage with like-minded citizens to learn about the latest and most successful strategies for protecting our Constitutional rights for all Americans.

Does social media threaten the freedom of the press?

Does social media threaten the freedom of the press?

Social media is one of the most controversial yet common parts of society today. Almost everyone has a social media account (or several), and while many of us enjoy connecting with friends and family, there are many downsides to social media as well.

Take freedom of the press, for instance. How do you think social media has influenced journalism today: for better or for worse? Let’s examine some of the potential threats that social media poses to our basic press freedoms in the US and abroad:

Inconsistent censorship policies

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other major social platforms are regularly criticized for their unclear censorship policies and potential biases against certain individuals and groups. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, we can see how this lack of clarity when it comes to which content is accessible to the public can be damaging for small-time journalists who may be censored for publicizing their opinions on social media.

So how do social media platforms differentiate between truly credible journalism versus fake news or borderline libelous content? For the time being, they’re trying to rely on artificial intelligence to sort the good from the bad, but since the algorithm isn’t perfect, some journalists may fall through the cracks and face stringent censorship policies.

Doxxing journalists

The term “doxxing” refers to the act of gathering and publicly posting someone’s personal information online for the purpose of intimidation. This is an alarmingly frequent tactic used against journalists in order to punish them for unfavorable reporting or frighten them out of their jobs. Doxxing would arguably not be as effective without social media, which allows for the rapid sharing of the most private details about another person for the purpose of harassing, stalking or intimidating them.

If journalists are not free to perform their jobs without fear of getting doxxed as a result of their reporting, then how can we possibly ensure the news we are getting is accurate and not at all influenced by such intimidation tactics?


A recent study conducted by computer scientists found that an average of 59% of social media users share content without ever clicking on the link they’re sharing! This presents a gloomy outlook for legitimate news organizations that are trying to promote truthful, ethical journalism amid a sea of fake stories with clickbait headlines that are specifically designed to evoke emotional reactions to that content, regardless of it’s actual validity.

In this sense, the spread of completely false information threatens legitimate journalism outlets just as much as the #fakenews label thrown around on social media. This false information distorts our perceptions of reality and makes it more difficult to believe anything we read.

Instagram Contest for Students -Closed-

Instagram Contest for Students -Closed-

Update: Congratulations to our #FAVunity Grand Prize Winner, Hilary Cohen!

Hilary Cohen’s #FAVunity Instagram submission shows how she is helping build bridges in her community and beyond

Instagram Contest for Students

Will you be in Philadelphia this September 15th? This is your chance to win FREE admission to our National Symposium at the National Constitution Center! Learn more about our dynamic symposium HERE and keep reading to see details on our Instagram Contest for students. Don’t want to wait? REGISTER NOW.

Prizes and How to Win

The Grand Prize recipient gets free attendance to the Symposium VIP Reception on September 14th at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, free admission to the Symposium at the National Constitution Center on September 15th, and a free tour of the new American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia. Ten runners up get free admission to the Symposium.

Post a photo on your Instagram that answers the question, “What do you do in your community to bring people together?” Use the hashtag #FAVUnity and like @1stamendmentvoice on Instagram to qualify for a Grand Prize and ten runners up prizes.

Time Limit: August 1-31st, 2018

Winners will be selected:

  • August 31: 10 Runners Up and GRAND PRIZE Winner (selected from whole month submissions)


  • Entrants can be any active student, whether high school, undergrad, graduate, PhD, etc.
  • Entrants agree to allow First Amendment Voice (FAV) to use any photos submitted for promotional purposes in the Symposium or future events.
  • In order to qualify, entrants must post a photo using the hashtag #FAVUnity and follow @1stamendmentvoice on Instagram.
  • Only entries submitted between August 1st and August 31st, 2018 will be considered.

This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram.

Fear appeals in public discourse

Fear appeals in public discourse

Fear appeals are commonplace in political rhetoric and advertising campaigns, but they can have a damaging effect when enough people are quickly persuaded before taking the opportunity to critically deliberate the validity of these appeals.

Also referred to as “fear-induced persuasion,” fear appeals are designed to convince an audience of an idea with horrifying imagery and dread-filled rhetoric. For instance, you might’ve seen some anti-smoking ads that used fear appeals to convince others to stop smoking by showing graphic images of a long-time smoker’s lungs or letting someone with severe emphysema narrate an anti-smoking commercial.

While fear appeals aren’t always bad (e.g., ads to stop people from drunk driving), they can significantly influence our public discourse, for better or for worse. Let’s explore how this happens through some contemporary examples:

Emotionally Charged Rhetoric

Fear appeals almost always start with emotionally charged rhetoric, which involves words and phrases with unfavorable connotations applied to a target. In political and everyday speech, there are several relevant examples of emotionally-driven rhetoric:

And the list goes on and on. The fact of the matter is: it’s important to recognize how emotional language can distort our perceptions of the truth and cause us to react negatively before we even consider all the facts surrounding the individual or group targeted by fear appeals.

Constructing the Enemy

This brings us to the concept of constructing the enemy. Historically, Germany’s Nazi Party offers one of the most recognizable forms of enemy construction, in which a propaganda campaign led to the mass extermination of millions of Jews (who they blamed for poor economic conditions in the country at the time).

In a nutshell, “constructing the enemy” involves extensive rhetorical efforts (using speech, images, “experts,” cherry-picked examples blown out of proportion, propaganda campaigns, etc.) to designate a group of people as an enemy. After 9/11, the uptick in society-wide Islamophobia demonstrated the powerful persuasive appeal of American politicians’ rhetoric about Muslims. Nowadays, the notion that “illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs” is one of the most common examples of fear appeals that is used to justify tighter immigration policies.

How is the First Amendment Involved?

Free speech is one of the essential cores of the First Amendment, but it isn’t 100% unrestricted, according to historical legal precedents. For instance, in the 1969 Supreme Court case, Watts v. United States, it was found that threats must be considered separately from constitutionally protected speech (especially when they’re “true threats,” which may be prosecuted under the law in order to prevent fear, disruptions and violence arising from genuine threats).

A more recent (and complex) example would be that of InfoWars‘ host Alex Jones’ involvement in a lawsuit initiated by parents of Sandy Hook shooting victims, after he claimed the deadly school shooting was a hoax. This is a different kind of fear appeal, in which Jones reduced a real tragedy to a made-up incident, blaming gun control activists for using a fearful “narrative” of children dying in school shootings to get more gun control policies passed in state and federal legislative bodies. In other words, Jones labeling the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax could be viewed as a fear appeal designed for a pro-2nd Amendment audience.

As we can see, fear appeals are extremely persuasive, both in the US and abroad. Even when they have little to no basis in reality, they can significantly alter public opinions about certain individuals and groups, which could potentially lead to violence against these scapegoated groups. As fervent supporters of constitutional rights for all Americans, we must recognize how fear appeals can subtly change our perceptions of reality and use our First Amendment rights to speak out against fear-based rhetoric that our politicians, media outlets and companies use on a daily basis.

July 2018 Newsletter

July 2018 Newsletter

FAV Family,

Enter our giveaway for a chance to win an 18-piece set of Callaway Strata golf clubs!

Are you worried that our society is becoming more divided? Please consider joining FAV this Fall at our Third Annual National Symposium in Philadelphia. We have an exciting line up of speakers coming together around the theme of E. Pluribus Unum or Divided? Join us again or for the first time. We’ll tackle the issue of polarization head on.

Philadelphia is a historic town and wonderful place to consider the relevance of principles established in our country over two hundred years ago. The National Constitution Center (NCC) is a world class facility that provides a great venue to host our gathering. If you’re traveling from afar, the hotel this year, the Wyndham, is within walking distance of the NCC. We have a special discounted rate, so please consider the trip. You won’t regret it! The first fifteen people to register get a free ticket to the Museum of the American Revolution in downtown Philly. REGISTER NOW!

Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues you think would appreciate FAV’s work. Subscribe here.

Yours in service,

Steve Miska and the FAV Team

Listen Up! 

Do you want to learn more about FAV or are you seeking more information about the Symposium this year? Hear Jim Hulton interview Steve Miska through radio station WFYL in Philadelphia during the Veteran’s Voice program on Saturday, July 21st at 10:00am Eastern Time. Not within radio antenna range of the station? It will also be live-streamed on the station website, http://www.1180wfyl.com.

Not available at that time because you’re still sleeping on the West Coast? We’ll send the link to the podcast the following week.

In the News

Freedom of the Press: 
Read the following research from Brookings that indicates small town newspaper closures increase local government spending. The authors speculate that closing local newspapers increase government borrowing costs because (1) less information is publicly available, and (2) local officials are no longer monitored as closely, reducing the quality of governance. The authors find suggestive evidence that alternative sources of media, such as the internet, are not acting as sufficient substitutes for local papers.

This is a lengthy piece from the New Yorker about Berkeley’s historic involvement in free speech what lengths the campus is taking to guarantee free speech.

When a small town in rural Virginia becomes a social media magnet for division and protest, read the Christina Science Monitor account of the Red Hen incident. Declining to serve a government official in a public restaurant.

Another indicator of division – harassment of a woman wearing a Puerto Rico shirt and the aftermath.


Follow 1st Amendment Voice on Instagram so you can be a part of our August contest to win free tickets to the National Symposium!

First Amendment Voice Third Annual Symposium

Join us at our national convening in the City of Philadelphia,founded by William Penn as a place of religious tolerance, as we join people of faith and conscience to celebrate our Constitutional ideals; honor the annual Constitution/Citizenship Day; and address the erosion of our First Amendment Rights.

  • Date: September 14-15, 2018
  • Location: National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106)

Symposium Flyer 2018 – Save the Date


Why is public trust in the press so important?

Why is public trust in the press so important?

When it comes to the news, most people can agree on one thing: few, if any, media organizations are completely unbiased. However, there’s a growing number of people who completely disbelieve anything published by news organizations with long-standing histories of credible reporting, thanks to the recent uptick in “fake news” rhetoric.

To overcome this growing crisis for our First Amendment rights in the US, we can start by recognizing how the existence of a free press is dependent on public trust in its institutions:

Speaking Truth to Power

The reason why freedom of the press was so important to our Founding Fathers is because they recognized how abusive a governing body can become if there are no checks on its power over the people. Throughout history, news organizations have served as checks against the government by reporting any factual gaps between political rhetoric and reality.

The media is responsible for speaking truth to power by reminding citizens how their representatives are voting, exposing scandals and corruption in all levels of government, and critiquing governmental attempts at propaganda to pull the wool over citizens’ eyes. Without public trust in the media, then who are we supposed to believe? Politicians? Talk show commentators? Satirists? Ourselves?

Informing the Citizenry

The media cannot help citizens stay informed about issues that affect them (both directly and indirectly) if those citizens don’t believe anything the media reports. For instance, it would certainly be easier to ignore the suffering and horrors going on around the world – be that ISIS operating in the Middle East, Syrian refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, North Koreans facing death by starvation in their dictatorship society, or even homeless people dying right here at home in the US.

However, it’s important for us to acknowledge what’s going on because change would not be possible without outraged citizens vocalizing their dissent in the form of protest, critiques published on blogs or social media, voting, and other forms of activism. Since individuals do not possess the resources (money, time) to report on issues happening all over the world (or even in our own backyards), it’s up to the media to help us stay informed. But how can the media perform this crucial task if citizens refuse to believe anything the media reports is true?

Funding Diligent Reporting

Newspapers are in crisis mode, with the news industry’s subscriber figures and advertising revenue plummeting year after year. There are many possible explanations behind the decline of American news, but some of the most likely explanations are that fewer Americans are interested in reading the news (especially if they have to pay for it) and fewer Americans trust the news to provide accurate information and unbiased reporting thanks to all of the “fake news” accusations being thrown around in public discourses.

With rapidly decreasing funds for journalists, printing presses, news circulation, website maintenance, and all the other expenses involved for news organizations, how will they continue to fulfill their roles as public informants and government watchdogs? Some people have advocated for citizen journalism, but this is not a viable alternative to professional, trained journalists with minimal bias, ethical standards to adhere to, and enough time and dedication to uncover all the facts involved.

This means that public trust is extremely important when it comes to funding news organizations. If the public doesn’t trust the news, then they won’t pay for the news And as the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for” – in this case, we’ll get low-quality “journalism” from random internet bloggers and possibly fake news sources with hidden ideological agendas.

The pros and cons of lowering the legal voting age in the United States

The pros and cons of lowering the legal voting age in the United States

13621133 - hand with ballot and box on flag of usaAfter the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there has been an uptick in public discourse concerning the legal voting age in the U.S. In many vicinities, the legal voting age is 18. However, there are some districts and areas, such as Takoma Park (Maryland), that have lowered the legal voting age to 16 instead. In 21 states across the country, 17 year-olds can vote in primaries if they’ll be 18 by the general election date, but is this enough?

Since voting is a crucial First Amendment issue, consider these pros and cons of lowering the U.S. voting age to 16:

Pro: Increase Civic Engagement and Awareness Among Youth

As the American Council of Trustees and Alumni points out, we have a crisis of civic education in the U.S. currently. We have people of all ages who barely know important aspects of history (studies have shown that people are even forgetting about the Holocaust), and many Americans can’t explain the difference between the 3 different branches of the federal government.

This ignorance is not limited to young people (voter apathy happens at every age!), yet we focus on their life inexperience and lack of knowledge as a justification for denying them voting rights. Since young people must obey the laws like any other citizen and they’re affected by the policies our government leaders establish for our society (especially when it comes to education and long-term economic policies), why shouldn’t young people have some say in the laws that uniquely affect their lives? By lowering the voting age, we could likely increase youth involvement in civic participation and bolster their interest in political issues because they’re no longer sitting on the sidelines.

Con: Their Brains Aren’t Fully Developed Yet

A major argument against lowering the voting age is that young people’s brains aren’t fully developed until they’re in their mid-20s. However, this scientific argument demonstrates why 18 is a mostly arbitrary number when it comes to something like voting, not to mention: teenage brains aren’t so different from adult brains.

Yes, teenagers are still immature and learning about how the world works. Yes, teenagers can be prone to emotional decision-making. Yes, teenagers are more susceptible to external influences than adults with more life experience. However, consider how these arguments function when applied to people who are 18 or older:

  • Should an adult with maturity issues be denied their right to vote?
  • Does everyone have their lives figured out and understand how the world operates by 18? By 30? By 60? Ever?
  • Should we assume that rational decision-making is something that automatically kicks in once you turn 18? Are adults (of any age) not prone to emotional decision-making as well?
  • Are adults completely immune to external influences (such as fake news, political propaganda, fear appeals-based political advertising, vitriolic campaign rhetoric, etc.) and able (and willing) to make fully-informed decisions about their voting options?

Once you see how the common arguments against young people can be similarly employed to disenfranchise adult voters, the claim that 16-17 year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to vote falls apart.

Pro: Increase Voter Turnout

Did you know that young people have higher voter turnout rates than you might expect? While the issue of mandatory voting could take up a whole other blog post, it’s important to consider what role choice plays in American society. Adults have the freedom to decide whether or not they want to vote, regardless of their education level, work experience, military service, gender, religion, family background, and other factors. All that matters (with the exception of mental disabilities and felony records in some states) is that you’re older than 18.

To increase voter participation in our elections, we should allow younger people the opportunity to vote if they want to. That’s the beauty of America: we have the freedom to decide if we want to participate in our democratic system or not.

Con: Parental Manipulation

Another common argument against lowering the voting age in the US is the notion that parents will force their kids to vote for whomever they’re voting for. However, this argument is non-unique because children grow up with their parents’ political ideology expressed in familial interactions – how is an 18 year-old who still lives at home more immune to parental influences than a 16 year-old?

Furthermore, 16-17 year-olds in the news recently (such as the Parkland shooting survivors and other school shooting survivors) have demonstrated a keen awareness of political issues affecting them, even when their parents were minimally interested in politics beforehand. Perhaps parental manipulation could still happen, but arguably the pros outweigh the cons here.

Pro: Protect Youths’ First Amendment Rights

As the Yale Law & Policy Review points out, voting is speech. Voting is the act of expressing a preference for a candidate, policy, and/or ideology, and in a democratic society, there is arguably no such thing as a “wrong” vote. By preventing young people from voting, we’re preventing them from exercising their First Amendment rights. As we can see from the Parkland shooting survivors, Malala, and other extraordinary youth, people under 18 are already getting involved in politics.

There are even youth volunteering and interning opportunities within political action committees and other political organizations. If young people are interested in politics and want to exercise their First Amendment rights, then who are we to deny them that fundamental right?

June 2018 Newsletter

June 2018 Newsletter

FAV Family,

In a recent trip to Philadelphia, I had the pleasure of meeting the new President of Valley Forge Military Academy and College. You might recall that I spoke at VFMAC in February about leadership as it relates to the First Amendment. We’re looking forward to deepening our partnership with cadet participation in this year’s Symposium in September. If you would like the opportunity to interact with young men and women seeking to serve our country, please consider joining us at the National Constitution Center on September 15th for our 3rd Annual FAV National Symposium. We’ve got some great speakers who have committed to raise awareness about first amendment trends, including Ms. Janessa Gans Wilder. Watch her Tedx Talk below! They will also provide tools for citizen engagement and hopefully, inspire attendees to get more involved in civic engagement. It’s going to be an exciting time.

Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues you think would appreciate FAV’s work. Subscribe here.

Yours in service,

Steve Miska and the FAV Team


In the News

Do students have freedom of speech? This story describes how a High School cut a valedictorian’s microphone after she deviated from the script during her commencement speech.

An article in USA Today on June 12th relates how some churches have attempted to address racism and how some churches promote white supremacy.

An interesting article shares a libertarian perspective about the current state of civil discourse. At this year’s symposium, we are excited to feature speakers who will address the current state of civic discourse and how we can all become more tolerant when we engage in our own causes.


First Amendment Voice Third Annual Symposium

Join us at our national convening in the City of Philadelphia,founded by William Penn as a place of religious tolerance, as we join people of faith and conscience to celebrate our Constitutional ideals; honor the annual Constitution/Citizenship Day; and address the erosion of our First Amendment Rights.

  • Date: September 14-15, 2018
  • Location: National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106)

Symposium Flyer 2018 – Save the Date