This year’s Law Day theme is “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.”
“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” says the First Amendment.
Freedom of speech is the liberty to speak without fear of government restraint. Freedom of the press protects the right to obtain and publish information or opinions without government censorship or fear of punishment. Both are among the most important foundations for a free society.
Law Day celebrates the role of law in our society and to allow others to gain better understanding of the legal profession.
One of the NWSBA’s goals this year was to provide more legal resources and access to justice. Our committees and volunteer attorneys have done an incredible job providing pro bono services to hundreds of individuals and to the court system.
As a bar association, we must commit to providing assistance and a voice to those who are disenfranchised or for those who cannot afford to retain lawyers.
As we expand access to justice, free speech is critical as it allows individuals to make legitimate grievances known to attorneys, who can help bring those grievances to court, the government and to the people at large — oftentimes through the press — without the fear of being retaliated against, which happens in other “not free” societies.
When attorneys argue on behalf of clients, whether it be on the issue that immigrant children not be separated from their parents, over civil rights, or whether a border wall is or is not necessary, or for more or less gun restrictions — our citizens must be able to freely express themselves without fear of government restraint.
The First Amendment’s protection of speech is central to our political system and democracy. On an individual basis, free speech allows people to gain information from many sources, not from the government which could attempt to dictate the “truth.”
This allows the public to make decisions and communicate those decisions to the government. Free speech allows individuals to participate in the political fray and have a voice in our democracy. It is essential for our free society, as it helps provide checks and balances, allows the people to protest, and, yes, even revolt against government excesses, corruption or ineptitude.
Freedom of press is the right of a journalist to exercise his or her right to free speech. The press is not the “enemy of the people.” A free press is central to our democracy and allows our society to circulate news, and ideas in the so-called “marketplace of ideas.” A free press holds those in authority accountable and helps foster robust public debate.
Government cannot be allowed to censor the press which it finds offensive or places leaders in a bad light. Acquiescing to such attempts by one party only gives the green light to the party next in power to do the same, but to different journalists or news outlets.
We cannot turn a blind eye to this. Free speech and free press must remain protected in order to maintain our free society.