1st Amendment day

Thursday, April 10 was a rainy, miserable, and strangely appropriate day for a 1st Amendment Day celebration. The day was designated to celebrate and honor the 1st Amendment for a 1st Amendment celebration at Iowa State University, sponsored by the Greenlee school of journalism. Activities included a Proclamation and Freedom March on campus, free food at the Feast on the First, and a keynote address by Mark Goodman, Knight professor of scholastic journalism at Kent State University. The freedom march followed a short soapbox program, in which journalism students were encouraged to read their writing, famous speeches, or say whatever happened to be on their mind. The audience, huddled together underneath an oversized tent, provided an intimate environment. One student read Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” an essay defending his actions of civil disobedience in the name of free and righteous speech. The closeness of the audience was appropriate, encompassing the small amount of people who have had to endure great discomfort for such actions. A few high school students who could relate were in the audience. Aaron Glynn, Abby Olsen, and Rietzy Hughes were present from Des Moines to receive “Champion of the 1st Amendment” awards. Glynn, a senior at Hoover High School, Olsen, a senior at Dowling Catholic, and Hughes, a freshman at Roosevelt, were arrested at a sit-in at Sen. Charles Grassley’s office in September. The three refused to leave the office after being expelled, asking Grassley to vote against current funding for the war in Iraq. They were presented with the awards to recognize the extent to which they were willing to exercise their 1st Amendment rights. “A lot of people said we just did it for attention,” Glynn said. “Well, in a way, that’s right, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. More than 2/3 of the country is against this war, but we needed a reminder that young people are passionate enough about it to really put themselves at stake. Getting arrested really helped get the word out.” Glynn went on to say that while friends and family knew he opposed the war, his actions at Grassley’s office helped convince them of the strength of his convictions. However, there is more to free speech than expressing discontent with authority. The 1st Amendment Day program also focused on student press, and the benefits and challenges within current law. Section 280.22 of the Iowa Code provides school publications with additional free speech protection beyond the 1st Amendment, and provides protection from censorship by school administrators. Goodman’s addresses, both to journalism students and to the general public, focused on these privileges. Goodman said that being a professor at Kent State, the site of the deaths of four protestors in 1970, he is acutely aware of the necessity of free expression in a learning environment. Listening to him, one wondered where censorship couldn’t exist, if it could exist in schools that are designed to evolve the mind. When the program ended, it was still cold, still rainy, and there weren’t a whole lot of people. Whether or not this is representative of the use of the First Amendment today is anyone’s guess.