Exploring First Amendment Rights

“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.”

–First Amendment to the Constitution of the Unites States of America

The Library will host “Free Speech in Times of Crisis,” a free presentation and discussion by Stephen Wolgast on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m. in the Library’s Jahn Room. The program is made possible by Humanities Kansas.

The First Amendment grants U.S. citizens with the right to express their opinions, including times when society is under stress. History shows, however, that sometimes people in positions of authority work to close off public discussion. This presentation will look at the reasons to protect free speech and provide current examples of how people in authority dissuade the public from speaking up.

Stephen Wolgast is an assistant professor of journalism and digital media at Kansas State University. He worked in newspaper journalism for 19 years, including nine years as an editor at the New York Times.

“One of the jobs the press has is to hold a mirror to society,” said Wolgast. “That’s why we have to report on the failings of government and institutions, even if it upsets the powers that be. If the press can motivate people to act when things aren’t going well, then by one measure the press has succeeded.”

People of a certain age remember watching Vietnam War and civil rights protests on the news in the 1960s. They also remember following the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and Iran-Contra in the 1980s, watching with fascination and horror that more than one President of the United States could deny knowledge of such devious plots. Those in power did not want to draw attention to any of these problematic issues and scandals. However, journalists were determined to provide the public with information they needed to hold people accountable. Ultimately, the perpetrators were forced to resign or went to jail.

In his presentation, Wolgast will explain how to determine what actual news is, and what is an attempt to hide the truth. He will also address the differences between free speech and hate speech. We encourage members of the community to attend and learn the effects of digital news sources and social media on our First Amendment rights.

“Free Speech in Times of Crisis” is part of Humanities Kansas’s Movement of Ideas Speakers Bureau, featuring presentations and workshops designed to share stories that inspire, spark conversations that inform, and generate insights that strengthen civic engagement.