Our political bent is freedom

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is getting some attention with its interesting study released yesterday showing that 56% of national and state nonprofit news sites post original material with a definite political viewpoint.

In light of that, some of you might wonder where the First Amendment Center and its website would appear on a left-center-right spectrum.

The answer: all the way across.

The First Amendment isn’t a leftwing thing or a rightwing thing. I’m not sure you could even call it strictly moderate or centrist. It encompasses all of that and more.

Some of us who write and edit this site are — personally, privately, on their own time — liberals. Some are conservatives. Others are somewhere in between. But we all agree that the First Amendment itself is none of that. That’s one of the glories of the First Amendment. It’s subject to no political control. No left or right ideology can claim it. It’s not an ideology, or if it is, its ideology is that all ideologies are guaranteed the right to speak.

At the First Amendment Center we do not lobby for laws favoring First Amendment principles.  We do not litigate or file briefs or fund lawsuits or provide legal advice. We do provide legal information, and most of all we try to educate people about what the First Amendment means. We do that by reporting news of First Amendment issues and by analyzing First Amendment cases.

Yes, we also write commentaries, and these are of course pro-First Amendment. But in our commentaries you can find liberals defending conservatives’ right to speak, publish and rally for their causes, and conservatives defending liberals’ freedom to do the same.

That goes for religious liberty, as well. We’ve been accused of promoting a Christian Right agenda because we’ve pointed out that students are allowed to pray at school, on their own, individually or in groups, as long as they don’t disrupt others. And we’ve been damned as God-denying secularists for showing why, under the First Amendment, the state cannot impose prayer or worship in schools or anywhere.

Pew’s study also found that a single, parent organization tends to fund the most ideological news sites, while the more even-handed operations generally receive funds from multiple sources. What about us?

The First Amendment Center is funded by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to “free press, free speech and free spirit.” The Freedom Forum also operates the Newseum, a museum of news that shows journalism at its best and its worst, and the Diversity Institute, which helps train a diverse workforce for America’s newsrooms.

To some, the name “Freedom Forum” sounds like we must be some sort of conservative front group. And we’ve received calls and messages from people convinced the name suggests wild-eyed radicalism.

We’re neither. We’re a forum for education — for freedom, for everyone.

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