The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among other rights. These rights have been points of debate in the current administration. The Trump administration has unclear and contradicting stances on protecting First Amendment rights.
Last week Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave a speech at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, for Constitution Day. DeVos defended freedom of speech, stating, “Today, freedom — and the defense of it — is needed more than ever, especially on our nation’s campuses.” She stated that students need a free and open environment to learn, make mistakes and explore ideas, even ones they disagree with.
She spoke about how we have lost the “ability to respectfully deliberate, discuss and disagree.” She said “the issue is that we have abandoned truth.”
The irony in DeVos’s speech was not subtle.
DeVos works for an administration notorious for providing misleading information. According to The Washington Post, President Trump tells more than eight lies a day. DeVos contradicts her stance on free speech with her actions towards the press.
According an article in The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss, the Education Department often fails to respond to basic questions from journalists. DeVos asked her agency’s Office of Inspector General whether grounds existed for criminal prosecution of employees who had leaked unclassified information to reporters.
Trump has made dangerous attacks on the press on more than one occasion, calling the media the “enemy of the public.” This rhetoric has resulted in threats of violence against reporters.
So while the administration defends the First Amendment on college campuses, calling for free speech in classrooms, it also undermines the right to freedom of press.
It seems the Trump administration will defend the First Amendment only when convenient. It is easy to support these rights when they benefit us.However, in order for the First Amendment to work, we must protect all press and all speech, even when we don’t agree with the content.