This year’s Law Day theme, “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society,” resonates for the Assyrian American Bar Association in a way many take for granted.
Our membership has a heightened sensitivity to the value of speech and press freedom and how closely correlated both are to a free society.
Whether as descendants, extended family, neighbors or clients, we come from countries where, as ultra minorities, persecution was the norm. Our voices were systemically silenced through genocide. And those courageous enough to speak out were destroyed.
That is in part why it pains us to witness the escalating attacks being visited on the press and immigrants’ rights activists. What we are witnessing is an erosion of the protections nonimmigrants take for granted: A chipping away of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Just last March, an amicus brief filed in federal court accused ICE of violating the First Amendment by targeting immigrant rights advocates for deportation. Here at home, the AABA saw an increase in the intimidation tactics ICE used against members of its community and took action. We organized religious and civic organizations and held forums to help people understand their rights.
The importance of this year’s theme cannot be underscored enough. Around the world, journalists are becoming the targets of despots, demagogues and dictators that use violence against the press as a surrogate to suppress their citizenry.
The brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist and staunch human rights activist Jamal Khashoggi made world headlines; he became one of 53 journalists murdered in 2018.
Journalists in the U.S. are being villainized for reporting that runs counter to repressive ideologies. Reporters are being killed for calling out the distortions, contradictions and outright lies that have gained traction among extremist groups and assumed center stage in the executive and legislative branches of our government.
It is vital that we protect and defend the rights of the press, of all Americans, to free speech. The press provides an essential, and sometimes the only, check on those governments that seek to muzzle their profession and obfuscate free speech, both here and abroad. They are the voices of the people.
And as such, must be heard.