To the Editor:
The Sun Community News Editorial Board may want to look a bit more closely at how the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment are enumerated.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The founders are concerned in this amendment with the rights of individuals in our society to act freely. This is its purpose; to make sure that each person is able to express himself or herself without fear. Press freedom is protected as subset of a right that applies to all citizens, not only journalists — that of free speech.
You can tell how highly the founders valued free expression by looking at the next clause. The right of peaceable assembly was so important to them that it merits particular mention in the First Amendment, as is the right to petition the government.
The summit attendees were exercising their right to assembly by meeting at Paul Smiths.
The protesters are exercising their right to petition by demonstrating at Rep. Stefanik’s office. And by writing letters and making phone calls.
Unfortunately, the amendment is silent on whether the government must respond to such petition, and Ms. Stefanik has taken advantage of that omission to avoid holding town hall meetings and by not disclosing her position on crucial issues.
These expressions of free speech are also available to journalists.
The press may seek answers from office holders and they should not be hindered in doing so. It is understood that they serve a necessary role in helping to maintain trust in elected officials. That is what the non-abridgment clause is about — the need for the public to be informed about the government.
There is not a corresponding need for the public to be informed about a meeting of individuals — a peaceable assembly, you might call it.
There have been many chances for journalists to talk to opposition groups and members, and there will be many more opportunities. However, their individual rights are guaranteed in the Constitution; the press’ right to attend their meetings is not.