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In U.S., ‘freedom’ not just another word

What does freedom mean to you?

On behalf of the Franklin Grove Area Historical Society, Max Baumgardner invited this editor to share his thoughts about freedom during the annual July 4 festivities at Chaplin Creek Village.

It was an honor to be among this year’s speakers at the 12th annual event, which always includes a reading of the Declaration of Independence (expertly, by Tom Wadsworth).

If that doesn’t get your patriotic juices flowing, nothing will.

WHEN MAX FIRST sent the invitation 5 months ago, he suggested that the speakers prepare “a 2-to-4-minute writeup” to be read to a couple of hundred people at the event.

That takes some work for an editor whose weekly column is just getting warmed up after 4 minutes.

But we finally got a rough copy of our remarks to Max, whose engineering background has influenced his precisely detailed organization of the holiday program.

We only hope the editor’s subsequent re-writing and re-editing – and penchant for contemporaneous comments – didn’t upset Max’s finely tuned timing too much.

But that’s the nature of free expression, isn’t it?

It just has to be free!

YOU CANNOT HELP but be impressed by the enthusiasm of Max and the other members of the historical society, which “proudly presents this program as a way to commemorate the event that led to the creation of our great nation.”

“We encourage everyone in attendance to be respectful of each other and for the significance of the event,” Max wrote. “We also encourage everyone to participate proudly during the pledge of allegiance and the singing of God Bless America. ... As you leave the Chaplin Creek site, we hope you will continue your individual celebration for being able to live in these United States of America.”

That is true love of country ... a country that will never – can never – be perfect.

That is real patriotism.

THIS EDITOR BEING who he is, he just had to talk about the First Amendment.

Although its primary position in the Bill of Rights was pretty arbitrary, we journalists like to talk about the “firstness” of the First Amendment.

Or, as the Supreme Court has said, the First Amendment is “the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.”

Here, basically, are the editor’s remarks from Thursday:

“MY NAME IS Larry Lough, and some of you might know me as the editor of The Telegraph and/or the Daily Gazette, the newspapers we produce at Sauk Valley Media. That means I am fortunate enough to work in the only constitutionally protected private business in the United States. After all, ‘Congress shall make no law abridging ... freedom of the press.’ That means we can publish just about anything we want – about anybody – and not fear the wrath of a vengeful government: federal, state or local.

“My profession has given me a special appreciation of freedom. To me, freedom means the right for all Americans to express themselves, to openly share their thoughts and ideas – as brilliant or as goofy as those ideas might be – in the many modes of expression that are available to them.

“For a newspaper editor, that doesn’t just mean our constitutional right to publish the facts as we find them, or our opinions as we believe them, or even your ideas as you wish to state them publicly. Freedom of the press allows us to facilitate the sharing of everyone’s ideas in a virtual public marketplace – in print or in some electronic form – so that we all might benefit from each others’ experiences and each others’ wisdom, and that we can collectively arm ourselves with honest and accurate information, so that we might make intelligent choices in the self-governance of this great democratic republic.

“BUT OUR FREEDOM of expression, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, is not limited to what we say, or what we write. That freedom ensures our right to express ourselves in how we worship, how we associate with others, how we protest and demonstrate and petition for our ideas, even how we dress.

“To be involved in the public discussion, you don’t even need to know what you’re talking about! That’s right. Freedom of expression protects bad ideas, offensive words, even ignorant opinions. And we all know about those, don’t we? Those are the people who disagree with us! But their speech is protected because the First Amendment abhors censorship, preferring to fight bad ideas with good ideas, so that truth might emerge from competition in the marketplace of everyone’s ideas.

“The great thing about our freedom to express ourselves in so many ways is that you don’t have to ‘qualify’ somehow. You don’t have to earn an advanced academic degree, or hold some lofty position in government or business, or be of a particular age, or sex, or race, or religion. As an American, you have the right to express yourself.

“AND WE DON’T make it difficult to participate. Grab a soap box and stand on a downtown corner to preach your ideas. Print leaflets and distribute them throughout the community. Go to a local government meeting and talk directly to the decision-makers. Take pen in hand (or a computer or mobile device) and send a message to our political leaders in Springfield or Washington. Those are among the many legal exercises of your right to free expression.

“Among the most effective ways for you to reach the most number of your fellow citizens is the simple act of writing a letter to the editor. I look forward, in the very near future, to publishing yours.

“I plan to continue to express myself. And even though we might disagree, I encourage you to express yourself, too.

“That’s what freedom means to me.”

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