Bill of Rights Day gets its overdue due

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thousands of Americans helped put Bill of Rights Day back on the calendar yesterday.

In an online promotional effort dubbed “Free to Tweet,” more than 17,000 people, including thousands of students, tweeted or e-mailed their appreciation for the core freedoms in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution on the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, Dec. 15, 1791. Messages began at midnight Eastern Time and continued throughout the day until 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.

There actually is an official national Bill of Rights Day — it was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in November 1941. Just days later, however, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. The holiday declaration was largely forgotten.

“Bill of Rights Day 2011 was truly special, a first step in revitalizing a holiday established by President Roosevelt in 1941, but largely uncelebrated since then,” said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center and the American Society of News Editors, two of the organizations that organized and promoted Free to Tweet. “It was inspiring to see the contributions of thousands of young Americans who spoke up for the First Amendment and our most fundamental freedoms.”

Significant big-name buy-in to Bill of Rights Day enhanced the celebration:

  • The White House tweeted: “Happy Bill of Rights Day! The US continues to stand with citizens & governments around the world who empower free expression.” It also issued a proclamation urging all Americans to honor and support the day.
  • Musical artists tweeted their support. Some examples:

Blake Shelton: “I sing what I want, the way I want to. That’s freedom. Support 1st Amendment 12/15. Win $5k scholarship.”

Brad Paisley: “With all the nations struggling for freedom,today is the day to count our blessings. Start with good ol’ amendment number 1.”

Wynonna Judd: “Love your Freedom of Speech? Then tweet #freetotweet today and express yourself.”

Ann Wilson of Heart: “Shake that pelvis, Elvis! Freedom of expression! Support 1st Amendment 12/15. Win $5,000 scholarship.”

Mary Chapin Carpenter: “Happy 220th Birthday to the First Amendment.”

John Oates
“I write songs to share my thoughts & ideas. That’s freedom of speech. Support 1st Amendment today, Dec. 15.”

Sarah Jarosz: “As a musician, I cherish my freedom of expression! Celebrating how fortunate we are to have our First Amendment rights!”

Jason Crabb: “I speak the name of Jesus & sing gospel music! Tks Bill of Rights! Support 1st Amend.”

Jana Kramer: “I express myself creatively to my fans without fear or censorship. Support 1st Amendment 12/15.”

Joe Nichols: “We are free to say whatever we want, but with freedom comes responsibility. It’s a great freedom. Treat it so.”

The tweetathon at #FreetoTweet encouraged every American to share online how they enjoy exercising their First Amendment rights, in order to raise awareness of the freedoms Americans value but often take for granted.

Students ages 14-22 had an extra incentive to tweet. Every student tweet with the hash tag #FreeToTweet was entered to win one of 22 $5,000 scholarships — a total of $110,000. A panel will select and announce the winners in early 2012.

Here are some sample tweets from the public:

Samantha Melton
“Roses are red, violets are blue. Without the first amendment, i wouldn’t even be tweeting you! #freetotweet”

Eli Alpern
“@1forAllus.. post the black, post the white, post the wrong, post the right, post the sour, post the sweet, post it all, youre #freetotweet”

Chinh Doan
“It matters what young people say about the First Amendment because each generation re-interprets these fundamental rights.”

Greer Schneider
“Without the 1st Amendment our mouths might as well be taped shut.”

Maria Amante
“Of all the amendments, #1 is my #1. #FreeToTweet”

Ashley Brue
“This tweet and all others proudly brought to u by the first amendment! #freetotweet”

Brent C. Folan
“I am #FreeToTweet because of all the men and women who have protected this right by serving in the military. #proudtobeanamerican”

Jessica Lynn Crain
“Happy B-day 2 u, Happy B-day 2 u, Happy B-Day FIRST AMENDMENT, Happy B-day 2 u!! #FreetoTweet”

Shannon Moreau
“We talk, we laugh, we read, we write, we sing, we dance. Freedom of speech rocks! #freetotweet”

Ben Jamin
“The First Amendment goes viral. #freetotweet”

Lorena Valentino
“#FreeToTweet tweets and stones may break my bones but the First Amendment stands behind me!”

“Free to Tweet” is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and organized by 1 for All, an unprecedented educational and public service campaign that builds understanding of the First Amendment and its five distinct freedoms: speech, press, religion, assembly and petition.

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About 1 for All
1 for All is a non-partisan, educational campaign that was launched in 2010 to address a general lack of awareness by the American public about the five freedoms afforded by the First Amendment. Initial support for campaign was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Newseum, McCormick Foundation, American Society of News Editors, First Amendment Center and Gannett Foundation. In addition, more than 1,000 news organizations, religious groups and educational institutions have devoted their time and resources in support of the 1 for All campaign. More information at 1forall.us.

About Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. More information at knightfoundation.org.

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