DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Your First Rights

With its deadly weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, the tragic shooting in Aurora last week has once again left America focused on the nature of gun ownership as specified in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. Of course, before there was a 2nd Amendment, there was a 1st Amendment which established the rights we have as citizens to discuss and take action on controversial issues such as gun laws.

The freedoms outlined in the 1st Amendment are explored in a newly renovated exhibit at the Newseum.

One of the many stars of the exhibit is the Simpson family, those fictional cartoon residents of Springfield on the long-running Fox show The Simpsons. 

The exhibit postulates that significantly more Americans are able to identify the 5 members of the Simpson family than they are the 5 freedoms named in the 1st Amendment. According to the results of a national poll, 20 percent of Americans were able to name Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as the Simpsons. When asked to name the 5 rights in the 1st Amendment, that number dropped to 3 percent.

Don't believe it. Give yourself a quick test. And then try that same test on your friends. OK. Now name all 5 1st Amendment freedoms. (Don't cheat. The correct answers appear below). If you do get all 5, consider yourself a Constitutional scholar of the 1st order. However, you may find more answers like those contained in the short, but thorough, video appearing on a large screen as part of the 1st Amendment exhibit. Here are some sample wrong responses:
  • "Uh, there's the freedom to ... uh ..."
  • "the pursuit of happiness?"
  • "something about guns?"
In addition to the Simpsons, the video includes words about rights from luminaries ranging from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to rapper/actor L.L. Cool J.  Howard Stern is there as is Martin Luther King, who contends "the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights." Real life presidents like Richard Nixon share the screen with actor Martin Sheen, who portrayed a popular president in the TV series West Wing.

The 2nd part of the exhibit contains 5 large, multi-level display cabinets, each focusing on one of the freedoms. Each of the cabinets are divided into 3 sections: Origins, Pivotal Issues, and Modern Issues. For example, here are some of the contents (documents, posters, artifacts, etc.) of the Freedom of Speech cabinet:

  • Sedition Act of 1798
  • The Espionage Act of 1917
Pivotal Issues
  • the 1965 school decision to suspend 5 high school students for protesting the Vietnam War by wearing black arms with the peace sign on them. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the suspensions were illegal, citing the court's belief that students "don't shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse door."
  • the attempt at banning the Kingsmen's version of the rock song "Louie Louie."  In February, 1964, an outraged parent wrote to Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General of the United States, alleging that the lyrics of "Louie Louie" were obscene. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the complaint. The FBI laboratory obtained a copy of the Kingsmen recording and, after two years of investigation, concluded that the recording could not be interpreted, that it was "unintelligible at any speed," and therefore the Bureau could not find that the recording was obscene.
Modern Issues
  • movie censorship
  • comic book policing
  • video violence
Oh, and before we conclude, here is the list of the 5 freedoms we promised.
  • freedom of religion
  • freedom of speech
  • freedom of the press
  • freedom to assemble peacefully
  • freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
One of my favorite parts of the permanent exhibit is the backing soundtrack for the video which includes snippets of many of the greatest protest songs of all time. Here are just some that are included:
  • "Fight the Powers That Be" by Public Enemy
  • "Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young
  • "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley
  • "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley
  • "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield

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