It’s free — help yourself

What has five parts and protects some of your most basic rights?

Give up? It’s the First Amendment.

Can you name only a couple parts? Do you think the right to bear arms is in there?

You’re not alone. Many people have a hard time remembering all parts of the First Amendment. After all, that government class was in high school. Besides, does it really affect your day-to-day life all that much anyway?

Well, for starters, you are reading this newspaper. That involves two different parts. We at the Stater have the right to print these stories, opinion pieces and photos without governmental interference. You, the reader, get to read this paper, as well as any other paper, freely.

Don’t worry, your rights don’t stop there. Freedom of religion, speech, press, to peaceful assembly and petition cover a variety of your actions, words, thoughts and beliefs.

Because this is the third annual Freedom of Speech Week, we’re focusing on the most well known aspect of the First Amendment. This isn’t an apocryphal piece to scare you into supporting free speech because it’s only a matter of time before police start arresting people for Thoughtcrime.

But consider this: Despite increases in First Amendment classes from 2004 through 2006, nearly three-fourths of high school students still either don’t know how they feel about the First Amendment or take it for granted.

That fact came from the Future of the First Amendment survey conducted in the spring of this year. It was a follow up to another survey conducted by the John S. Knight Foundation in 2004.

Here’s another one for you: Students support individual free expression rights that directly affect or interest them, but they’re less supportive of rights that are less relevant to their lives.

Now before you dismiss these statements because you’re in college and this report was about high school students, remember where you were a few years ago. Have your views changed that much? If you look at the story in yesterday’s paper, the quotes look fairly similar.

We don’t live in an Orwellian society. Yes, you can argue about the dangers of the Patriot Act and domestic surveillance programs – those scare us, too.

But think about all the countries that don’t guarantee these freedoms, or worse, punish its citizens for trying to make their voices heard. They censor and monitor the Internet, they crack down on any negative press about the government and force people into a single way of thinking to discourage any possibility of opposition.

We have these rights given to us merely for being born in the right geographic region. Why would you take them for granted? Once again, we have all heard of these advantages available to us, but too many of us ignore them or misunderstand them.

We’ve already written about why you should know your rights. We realize an editorial in your college newspaper isn’t going to make you go to the store and pick up a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and memorize it.

What we are asking you to do is just think about why you wouldn’t want to know your basic rights. We can’t think of any reason. Can you?

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.