Our Views: Honoring free speech

Walk into LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and the first thing you’ll notice near the entrance is a large, purple-and-gold banner printed with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment, a touchstone of democratic freedom, states that “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 First Amendment banner is part of a year-long celebration of the First Amendment at the Manship School that coincides with the school’s centennial.

During a recent ceremony to kick off the Manship School’s celebration of the First Amendment, the school’s dean, Jerry Ceppos, said that the First Amendment is an important guarantee of free expression in all its forms, including many aspects of public life beyond professional media. “Music has also benefited from the First Amendment,” said Ceppos, who advanced his point by inviting a music group called Freedom Sings to the ceremony. Composed of Grammy-level performers, the group tours the country singing songs that have faced censorship over the years. The band’s spirited rendition of “Louie, Louie,” a popular song of the 1960s with vaguely enunciated lyrics that prompted suspicions of obscenity and a fruitless probe by the FBI, offered a humorous reminder of what can happen when self-important guardians of public morality go too far.

Before the Freedom Sings performance, LSU Law School Chancellor Jack Weiss, who also spoke at the First Amendment ceremony, told listeners that the First Amendment is a living principle first championed by Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, not a museum piece. “Nothing would have struck Madison and Jefferson as more bizarre than the notion of the First Amendment as a sort of golden idol,” said Weiss.

“Madison was not a really convinced supporter of the First Amendment early on,” Weiss added. “Jefferson persuaded Madison that a First Amendment was actually a good idea. We have this model of someone changing his mind because of what someone else said.”

That’s why unfettered public discourse is such a valuable part of a healthy republic, and why the First Amendment, in guaranteeing that exchange of ideas, is well worth celebrating — and defending.

We commend Manship School officials for taking up the cause.