A mere 45 words, penned by James Madison, lay the foundation for our representative democracy.
“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.”
These words, which comprise the First Amendment, are essential to the health and well-being of this country.
These words aren’t just an expression of high-minded ideals; they are acted upon.
They are practiced every day in this nation. And they are practiced in this newspaper.
These words ensure — more than 230 years after their ratification — that this republic continues to withstand those who would tear it down or take it over.
This is Sunshine Week in America, an annual observance launched in 2005 by the Association of News Editors — now the News Leaders Association — to raise awareness of the need for open government.
The founders understood that the people need the press — and still do — to help them keep track of their government and the officials they have elected to serve them.
The value of a free press is essential to ensure an open and accountable government. The press is not here to be liked by everybody or to curry favor with elected officials. We’re here to report what’s happening, without fear or favor, and to hold local government accountable to the people.
In recent years, transparency in the functioning of government — at all levels — has diminished.
And, with fewer news staffs working to ensure government accountability in communities across the state and nation, public scrutiny has been compromised.
In addition, the ease of internet access allows for a lot of propaganda to spread from untrustworthy sources, with virtually no counterbalance from legitimate local news organizations.
As a result, what we do as journalists has become even more important. Not only are we striving to support the public welfare by seeking facts through verification, we are accountable for what we publish.
During this week, as we reflect on the importance of open government to our democracy, we recognize the critical role we fulfill in informing the people about whether their government is serving them — or not.
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