Introducing ‘Free to Tweet’

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Today I spent my morning as a guest lecturer on the First Amendment at Vanderbilt University. The class was a bright group of first-year students attending one of America’s most respected universities, but not one was able to identify the five freedoms of the First Amendment. An overwhelming majority didn’t know that the First Amendment protects us only from government censorship and not the meddling of private enterprise.

That’s not unusual. The First Amendment gets surprisingly short shrift in the nation’s classrooms and too many young people (and their parents) fail to understand how the five freedoms of the First Amendment — freedom of speech, press, religion and the rights of petition and assembly — serve to protect all Americans.

That’s why I also told the students about how I planned to spend my afternoon. Today we’re launching “Free to Tweet,” an unprecedented public-education campaign to raise awareness about the First Amendment and the importance of Dec. 15.

That’s the day 220 years ago that the United States ratified the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. We celebrate the Fourth of July with picnics, parties and fireworks, but rarely acknowledge the importance of Bill of Rights Day, a largely forgotten holiday.

That’s why we joined with our colleagues at the 1 for All campaign to encourage students throughout the country to celebrate Dec. 15 in a unique way. We’re encouraging them to tweet messages celebrating the First Amendment and, in turn, to become eligible to win one of 22 $5,000 scholarships.

1 for All is a collaborative effort by educators, journalists, attorneys, artists, authors and many others to build broad understanding of the First Amendment through marketing, educational materials and events on high school and college campuses. Its founding organizations include the American Society of News Editors, Knight Foundation, McCormick Foundation, Gannett Foundation and the First Amendment Center.

We recognize that constitutional law doesn’t normally drive social-media messages, so we’ve also enlisted well-known figures in music and pop culture, including Ke$ha, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Civil Wars, Sarah Jarosz, Joe Nichols, Jana Kramer, Frankie Ballard and many more. We’ll be announcing new celebrity tweeters each week between now and Dec. 15.

If you’re someone in the public eye, an educator, author or someone who has a couple of hundred people following your tweets, we’d love to have you sign on and encourage others to participate. Please drop us a note at 1forall@newseum.org and we’ll add you to the roster.

There’s a lot to like about “Free to Tweet.” Students are eligible to compete for scholarships and America gets a reminder of what truly makes this a special nation. Please help us spread the word.

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