Separation of Press and State

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Borrowing liberally from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, let’s adopt this manifesto of our resolve to keep the government from taking over (via voluntary non-profit status) the free press in the United States:

Americans have more publishing freedom than any people in world history. We can choose what to read; what to teach our children; how, where and when to write; which causes to give money to; or even whether we want to get involved with the news at all. We have the separation of press and state to thank for this broadly based freedom.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” Most Americans have interpreted this clause to mean that the press and government must stay separate for the benefit of both.

Press-state separation has worked very well in practice. Americans freely support an array of newspapers, television networks, web sites, and other publishing institutions, our nation is media diverse and many opinions exist side by side with remarkably little conflict. Our government treats people of all media (and none) equally.

When our nation’s Founders separated the press and government, it was a revolutionary experiment. That experiment has been an extraordinary success. It’s made us the envy of the world, and Americans United wants to make sure that wise policy continues.

By bailing out Big Media, Congress and the Obama administration threaten to destroy that separation, to tear down that wall, to collapse the freedoms the media in America have enjoyed. Proposals in Congress and in the White House would turn many newspapers like the New York Times and the Boston Globe into arms of the government. Through the state-run media, administrations would be free to wage propaganda wars. No one would know what’s real and what’s government spin. For example, the New York Times could report a “scientific consensus” that humans are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise even though no evidence exists to support that claim.

During the post-9/11 wars, the free press provided a check on government assertions of dangers from Islamofascist terrorists. The press informed us that the WMD menace in Iraq was overstated. Without a free, independent press, we might never have learned of these facts. Instead, the Bush administration would simply have typed out the NYT’s stories, keeping us in the dark about the truth.

Think government ownership of the press would be tolerable? Think again. Already, Democrats Feinstein and Durbin are proposing legislation to make it easier for the U.S. government to prosecute conservative bloggers. And Democrat Harry Waxman is preparing to propose legislation for a government takeover of newspapers.

Not in my country. If we have to live with a strict, draconian interpretation of the First Amendment regarding religion, then we damn well demand the same separation of press and state.