First Amendment heroes are regular people just like you

First Amendment heroes are regular people just like you

Some religious traditions stretching back through the ages believe the world is borne upon the shoulders of secret living saints; individuals whose piety and righteousness protect the fate of humanity in God’s eyes. These individuals are often unaware of the pivotal role they play in safeguarding the universe. They simply do it out of love, belief, and dedication to something far bigger than themselves.

It is much the same when it comes to the First Amendment and our constitutional rights as Floridians to government transparency. These freedoms only exist because of the actions taken by individuals who believe in them; real people who cherish and fight to protect them every day. This they do when speaking at public meetings, penning articles, demanding transparency from elected officials, challenging unjust laws, and standing up for speech that they might not even like. They understand that free speech only works when it works for everybody.

Unfortunately, far too few people feel and act this way.

Many Americans’ support for the First Amendment is not rooted in a respect for a diversity of ideas or a fascination with differing perspectives, but in an out-of-control cancel culture steeped in selfishness and fear. They appear all too happy to protect what they want to say and hear at the expense of those whose voices they don’t like. This creates a cycle of dread that others might want to do to us what we want to do them first. Thus, far too often we scramble to protect our speech, while seeking to deny others the speech we don’t think anybody should utter aloud.

This “My-speech-is-important; Yours’-not-so-much”-approach is employed by people of every political stripe, from the far-right to the far-left, and most of what’s in between. Conservative pundits like to claim that cancel culture is a tool of the left, but the truth is that all sides try to silence what they don’t like. No single side has a monopoly on trying to muzzle rivals.

If we cannot shatter this belief, we are doomed. Speech, especially the kind that makes us feel uncomfortable or angry, is precisely the kind of speech we need to defend to protect the speech that we like and support. You cannot protect one, without protecting the other. That is the burden of the First Amendment.

This might be an extremely bleak interpretation of the current state of political discourse in America today, but if you look around with an open mind you will see signs of this problem everywhere. There is currently a tug of war across the country over what speech and content are acceptable in books, music, comedy specials, talk shows, and most recently at campus protests. It plays out in State Houses, school board meetings, courtrooms, newspaper columns, and local government chambers.

So, who is to stop this? Who will bring common sense and tolerance to our political debate?

The answer is you, and people just like you, who know it’s better to allow ideas to play out in the public marketplace than to be forced underground by being outlawed or chilled. What sustains American democracy are not executive orders, culture war bills, or black-letter laws. No, we are protected by the values of citizens, public servants, judges, businesspeople, teachers, news anchors, workers, parents, and watchdog activists. It’s people just like you.

On June 15, at the FSU Law School Rotunda, in the heart of Florida’s capitol city, the First Amendment Foundation will honor four of these individuals for standing up for everybody’s rights to speak their minds and know what government is up to.

These four people – a newspaper reporter, a mom, a religious broadcaster, and a Constitutional lawyer – represent Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. They are heroes, and we want to invite you to come and celebrate the actions and efforts of these amazing Floridians who stand up and speak out for you!

The award ceremony marks the first time we have given out these awards since the end of the pandemic. Much has happened since then. Much continues to happen, and the First Amendment Foundation thought it was time to celebrate the efforts of normal people fighting for your rights to speak, hear, and know.

So please join us in Tallahassee and meet the First Amendment’s hidden heroes.