By Ken Paulson
You can’t take freedom of speech for granted these days.
The horrific murders of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and other staff members in Paris and the threat of bombings at movie theaters for booking “The Interview” are jolting reminders that freedom of speech is often vulnerable.
The two global incidents also illustrate that some of the most powerful and provocative free speech is conveyed visually, through cartoons, films, photographs, art and graphics.
In the United States, the First Amendment protects the expression of all ideas, regardless of medium, yet 2014 surveys by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and the Knight Foundation indicated that more than a third of adult Americans believe that the First Amendment goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees, a view shared by almost a fourth of the high school students surveyed.
Of course, those surveys took place before the Paris attacks and the threats to movie theaters, and we can only hope that Americans have a freshened perspective on the values of these key liberties. Yet it’s undeniably chilling that the five freedoms of the First Amendment – speech, press, religion, petition and assembly – are seen by millions of Americans as excessive.
A silver lining in the Knight Foundation survey: It found that students who spend some time on the First Amendment in a classroom are far more likely to embrace its freedoms.
In that spirit, educators and journalists are teaming up next month to encourage high school and college students to use their free speech to build awareness of the First Amendment.
Picture Freedom, a nationwide scholarship contest set to launch on Feb. 22, invites students to post photos and images illustrating freedom of expression on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. By sharing original images with the hashtag #picturefreedom, students are automatically eligible to win. A team of educators and First Amendment experts will review the posts for originality, creativity and clarity in conveying the theme of freedom and will award 25 $1,000 scholarships.
Picture Freedom has the support of the American Society of News Editors, the Journalism Education Association, the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, and hundreds of teachers and journalists.
The event will run from Feb. 22-28, timed to coincide with the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Journalism Week. Find details, and rules for the contest at http://1forall.us/picture-freedom-contest/.
At a time when free speech is so often in the headlines, 1 For All wants to encourage young Americans to reflect on how freedom of expression enriches their lives and strengthens their nation.
It’s unlikely that a 221-year-old amendment to the Constitution will go viral, but it’s our hope that young Americans will help us celebrate what makes America special.
What makes America the most powerful, creative, dynamic and ambitious nation on the planet? Just picture freedom.
Ken Paulson is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University and president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Interested in other scholarship and fellowship opportunities? RTDNF and many of its partner organizations offer a wide range of assistance for journalism students. Please check out our journalism scholarships page for more information.