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WHYY PROGRAM EXAMINES FIRST AMENDMENT IN THE 21 ST CENTURY
Airs on Constitution
Day, Wednesday, September 17, at 7:00 pm
THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN
THE NEW MILLENNIUM, a one-hour program about First Amendment
issues, such as the right to privacy in the face of national
security concerns and free expression on the Internet, will
be broadcast on TV12 on Constitution Day, Wednesday, September
17, at 7:00 pm. Constitution Day commemorates the 216th anniversary
of the adoption of the U. S. Constitution in 1787. The program
features a panel of distinguished experts debating at the National
Constitution Center (NCC) in front of an audience of lawyers,
judges and leaders in the business and civic communities. Michele
Norris, host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered,
moderates the discussion.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT
IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM, presented in cooperation with the Philadelphia
Bar Association, features the first substantive content event
ever to be held at the NCC. Panelists include: Floyd Abrams,
partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel and visiting professor
at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism; Marci A. Hamilton,
Thomas H. Lee Chair of Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School,
Yeshiva University; Solomon Watson, Senior Vice President and
General Counsel, The New York Times ; and Seth P. Waxman, former
Solicitor General of the United States.
During the program,
the panelists debate many issues presented by Norris, but the
one issue they all agree on is that what makes the First Amendment
extraordinary is its “flexibility” — it’s application and interpretation
can adjust over the years to better reflect the times we live
The subject of making
America a safer place after the events of September 11 without
infringing on people’s liberties, is one of the many First Amendment
topics explored in the program. Panelists discuss the USA Patriot
Act, which allows federal agents to seek records from libraries
and bookstores if they are deemed relevant to a terrorist investigation.
Floyd Abrams warns, “These
things are not always illegal — they are always dangerous.”
Seth Waxman agrees. “There’s
no doubt that when the government tries to search library records
and bookstore records, First Amendment rights are chilled.”
Marci Hamilton believes
it is sometimes necessary to seek records from libraries and
bookstores in order to maintain safety throughout the country.
“The government has the obligation to protect liberty and life,”
Solomon Watson states
that the government’s interest in library and bookstore records
is an attempt to ease the Nation’s concerns and fears brought
on by September 11. “It is not unusual for Congress to attempt
to reflect the views of the citizens in times of war,” says
The panel also debates
the issue of how to regulate the content of the Internet, such
as preventing children from accessing questionable material,
without violating First Amendment rights.
Watson believes that,
in spite of growing pressure from citizens to create new laws
that will further regulate the Internet, legislatures feel uncomfortable
with the task of deciding what is “indecent.”
All panelists agreed
that the Government has had a difficult time convincing the
Supreme Court that new legislation can effectively regulate
the Internet without imposing on people’s First Amendment rights.
Waxman believes that
in addition to protecting children, regulation of the Internet
is necessary in order to protect citizens’ private information,
as well as businesses’ proprietary commercial data.
The consensus of the
panel was that it is simply too early in the 21st Century to
determine how to legally regulate this rapidly growing medium.
When asked where First
Amendment laws are headed in the next 20 years, Hamilton is
confident that the needs of the country will determine what
the First Amendment will or will not protect.
Waxman is not so confident.
He expresses great concern about the “privatization of First
Amendment values” by conservatives. Waxman believes that the
recent inability of legislatures to pass law that would prevent
the concentrated ownership of media is just one example of this
Other First Amendment
issues discussed in the program include the USA Patriot Act’s
effect on the media, how the events of September 11 have affected
citizens’ right to dissent and how the First Amendment has begun
to threaten privacy rights.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN
THE NEW MILLENNIUM was produced by WHYY-TV. Paul Gluck is executive
producer. Funding for this program was provided by the Philadelphia
Bar Association, PNC Bank and USI Colburn Insurance Service.
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