Blog 1: Welcome and watch

Friday, June 30, 2006

Welcome to my blog. When you visit, you’ll find updates and information about trends and issues that touch on the nation’s five basic freedoms — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. And you’ll get the latest news about First Amendment Center commentaries, books and columns.

This is a “First Amendment watch” — which doesn’t mean it will lack passion, but it will lack partisanship. The First Amendment Center aims to educate and inform, not lobby or litigate, in fact or in print — and I’m going to use that same approach.

From controversies over The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA TODAY reporting on secret government programs monitoring finances and telephone communications, to a razor-thin margin June 27 in the U.S. Senate to reject a proposed “flag-burning amendment,” Americans, their government and a free press are deeply involved in First Amendment issues as we enter the July 4 holiday weekend.

And there’s more: Religious-liberty issues, regulating student speech, setting indecency standards — and higher fines — in an attempt to control content on broadcast television and the Internet.

A “marketplace of ideas” was one of the concepts the nation’s founders had in mind when the First Amendment was proposed, to encourage citizens of all faiths, backgrounds, philosophies and viewpoints to think, learn and speak about the issues of the day. I hope this space will serve as just that.

E-mail your observations to me on First Amendment issues of the day to Include your name, city and state and e-mail address.

— Gene Policinski

Among the things you’ll find at the First Amendment Center Online:

Paul McMasters and Charles Haynes share the writing responsibilities for a weekly column, “Inside the First Amendment,” which discusses the hot issues of the day — from journalists’ protection of sources to graduation prayers to funeral protests to government secrecy to student free-speech rights.

Among the most recent:

  • Ombudsman Paul K. McMasters, heading into the Independence Day holiday weekend in which we celebrate our freedoms, writes about the increase in attempts by public officials to regulate all manner of material on the Internet.

  • A recent column by Charles C. Haynes, “Prayer protest at graduation: Fighting over God and country,” produced a torrent of response, mainly from those presenting a “majority rules” argument in favor of permitting Christian prayers at graduation exercises over the objections of one person (or alternately, a minority of those in the given community.”

    Then came Haynes's later report on what readers said.

  • This past week, Haynes tackled another topic likely to prompt reader response: In “Honoring Sgt. Stewart: Wiccans are Americans too,” he discussed proposed grave-marker symbols for fallen soldiers who followed this recognized faith.

  • David Hudson analyzes a just-released U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding prisoner rights. He says the court continued a pattern of deferring to prison rules.

  • A proposed constitutional amendment to permit Congress to prohibit desecration of the U.S. flag failed by one vote, 66-34 tally, to reach the needed two-thirds, or 67 votes, required to send it to the states for ratification. Supporters vow to bring the proposal back next year. Find how your senator voted in a state-by-state report.

    Podcasts: NEW to the First Amendment Center Online. Download and listen to interviews, panel discussions and remarks by journalists, educators and others speaking about the First Amendment, a free press and freedom of information. To select from the list below, go here.

    Newseum's Pulitzer photo exhibit: capturing the best
    Interview with Margaret Engel, managing editor of the Newseum, about 'Pulitzer Prize Photographs: Capture the Moment.'
    Les Crystal: issues and trends in news, Part 1
    Interview with Les Crystal, executive producer, 'The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer' on PBS.
    Les Crystal: Part 2
    Les Crystal: Part 3
    Bob Woodward: Government secrecy hurts us, Part 1
    Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame interviewed by John Seigenthaler, Oct. 7, 2005
    Bob Woodward: Part 2
    Bob Woodward: Part 3
    'Pulitzer Prize Photographs: Capture the Moment'
    Hear interview about exhibit opening June 30 at Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville.
    'Reflections on Where We Are' — Steven Aftergood
    Complete audio of National FOI Day luncheon speech by Steven Aftergood.
    Whistleblower panel excerpt: National FOI Day 2006
    Audio excerpt from National FOI Day 2006 session.
    'Fooling the People' — Hodding Carter
    Podcast of complete keynote speech for National FOI Day 2006 by Hodding Carter, University of North Carolina.

    Comment? E-mail me.