James Madison on freedom of the press

May 29, 2008 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: First Amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of the press.
  • We have seen an erosion of freedom of speech and the press in the last few years, so it might be good to remind ourselves of what one of the Founding Fathers had to say about it.

James Madison:

• Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
– First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

• Whatever facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments, as good roads, domestic commerce, a free press, and particularly a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people … is favorable to liberty.
– National Gazette, 1791

• It is to the press mankind are indebted for having dispelled the clouds which long encompassed religion, for disclosing her genuine lustre, and disseminating her salutary doctrines.
– Speech in the Virginia Assembly, 1799

Campaign finance laws, laws against hate speech, mandated disclaimers in political advertising — all these may seem like good ideas, but they come with a cost. The cost is allowing government (courts, bureaucrats, legislators) to get the idea that it’s okay to restrict what people say.

It isn’t.

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