A National First Amendment Association

Just for a moment, think about the power and influence of the NRA. Think about its power over both its members and politicians. Think about how, despite gun violence that is unparalleled in the First World, the right of Americans to own assault weapons and pounds of ammo is not in danger. Think about the NRA’s undying and uncompromising defense of the 2nd Amendment.

OK, now imagine that the 1st Amendment had the same sort of organization exercising that kind of power and influence. Pretty cool idea, huh? Wendy Kaminer imagines just such a thing, although without much hope of one.

We need a Free Speech Association, an FSA, with the commitment and clout of the NRA, but we’re unlikely to see one emerge anytime soon, from right or left. Several small advocacy groups, like the National Coalition Against Censorship, are devoted to First Amendment rights; the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a fierce defender of speech rights on college campuses. But more powerful lobbying groups on both sides tend to protect their own speech rights, while ignoring or endeavoring to suppress the rights of others.

She makes a pretty good case, too, that we believe in free speech for me but not for thee.

In a slightly wandering way — the way my mind works — I thought about that as I read the latest report card on North Carolina’s access to public records. It’s a F, a grade that would make any parent blanch if their child brought it home. Sadly, I doubt our state, city or county elected officials will care much. After all, the grades they got for accountability weren’t much better.

From The Charlotte Observer: North Carolina public record laws fail to provide oversight for requests and lack a way to appeal denied requests in a cost- and time-efficient way, according to the study. The only way to appeal a denied request is through a lawsuit.

Joann Hager, a Lincoln County animal rights activist, has twice used North Carolina’s open record law. On Monday, Hager said she isn’t surprised the state ranks among the worst for access to public records.

“You can ask, but you probably won’t get public records,” Hager said. “That’s pretty much the way it is. They know there is no enforcement.”

News organizations experience this often. A public board will violate the law, either by meeting in secret or refusing to release records. The news organization will have to hire an attorney to threaten a suit, or actually have to file a suit. It happens time and time again because there is no punishment. And it happens at taxpayers’ expense because we pay the government lawyers.

But if there were an organization with thousands of members raising hell at the slightest encroachment of public access to its own government? Personally, it seems as if that fits within the misson of both the Tea Party and the ACLU.

Imagine.

4 thoughts on “A National First Amendment Association

  1. I agree such an organization is long overdue. And I think once the fall elections are in the book, there will be more of a nationwide outcry as Mitt Romney and his penchant for secrecy assumes the character of our government. Time to start organizing is now.

  2. We had about 50 people show up this blazing Saturday in Charlotte for a SPJ seminar on covering the DNC, and much of the seminar dealt with First Amendment issues.

    So we’re trying.

    Sometimes, it’s a matter of getting existing organizations to work together. SPJ/NABJ/Unity/NPPA/SPLA/ONA and others all have dogs in this fight. We’re trying.

    And thanks, John, for spreading word about the seminar earlier.

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