Selective Indignation and the First Amendment
As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated well, "[w]hen a free media is in jeopardy, all other human rights are also threatened." The First Amendment's protection for the freedom of the press guards Americans' ability to freely express their positions and opinions in the media. It is supposed to allow them to investigate and criticize the government without fear of government interference. This freedom is fundamental to the health of our republic.
So it is not surprising that news of intrusive actions by the Obama administration, including tracking the movement and private e-mails of a Fox News reporter, stirred outrage across the ideological spectrum. Even the usually left-leaning Huffington Post told its followers on Twitter that "this is one time when you should be siding with Fox News."
And rightly so. But why is concern for First-Amendment freedoms met with a piercing silence by the mainstream media when it comes to Americans simply trying to live their lives according to the dictates of their faith?
The same First Amendment that protects the freedom of the press protects Americans' religious liberties, which are likewise facing sustained attack, if not more so. Whether in the form of the coercive abortion pill mandate, attempts to suppress the religious expression of members of the military, or the growing number of lawsuits filed around the country against good Americans simply trying to run their businesses in accord with their conscience, government-sanctioned persecution of people of faith has arguably never been more rampant in the U.S.
Most would agree that effective investigative reporting, including pursuit of leads and contacting sources within government agencies, must never be impeded by government intimidation. The incredulity and indignation expressed at the current administration's complete disregard for the freedom of the press is wholly warranted. But the lack of similar indignation when religious liberty is threatened highlights the duplicity at play in our society -- particularly in the media -- when it comes to other First-Amendment freedoms.
Our founders knew that government needed restraint, and they spoke of this repeatedly. That belief was clearly behind the First Amendment in its protection of the press, as a watchdog of government, and of the church, as an entity that can speak truth to power.
Witnessing -- and, for some, experiencing firsthand -- the recent assault on the freedom of the press should make us think twice before dismissing the attacks being waged on Americans' first freedom, the free exercise of religion. Whether it is a florist in Washington state trying to run her business consistent with the tenets of her faith or a reporter working to expose government wrongdoing, the freedoms protected by the First Amendment are the lynchpin to a diverse society where respect dominates our approach to another's positions or beliefs, regardless of how much we disagree.
Many have voiced their intention to "unequivocally defend" the "right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press." Should not this same relentless defense be given to those Americans whose religious beliefs and conscience have been trampled?
Coercion, bullying, and intimidation, especially when perpetuated by the government, poison the life and diversity that make America unique. In this tumultuous time where the-First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, and the press are under assault, President Reagan's words serve as a reminder to us all that "[f]reedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. ... It must be fought for, protected, and handed on ... or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
Regardless of our political or personal ideologies or beliefs, let's spend our "sunset years" telling our grandchildren that we are able to think, believe, and live according to our sincerely held beliefs because our generation put up a united front that championed every aspect of First Amendment freedoms.
Kellie Fiedorek is litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.