A freedom unused is a freedom abused

Rights must be exercised to remain relevant

February 12, 2011|By SHERRY BOURGEOIS

"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."

Those 45 words in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution cover a great deal of territory. Yet, have we become so complacent in the freedoms guaranteed in those words that we assume they always will be there? And what if we don't make good use of that freedom? Perhaps it is no longer necessary?

As I watched the protests of the Egyptian people these past few weeks, I found myself reacting to the enormity of it in so many different ways.

I am not a world politics expert. I do not claim to understand all the intricate nuances of the recent events or even the past decades that led up to the massive movement of the last several days. However, I became intrigued as events unfolded.

As I watched the coverage of the protests, I was in awe of people fighting for a better life for themselves and their country. Each day seemed to take on its own personality, sometimes erupting in violence, other times maintaining a peaceful determination.

As a U.S. citizen, I reflected a great deal on our own history, and the freedoms and liberties we have. As I watched the Egyptian people calling for a change in their leadership and being willing to die for their cause, I thought about our own country.

We "enjoy" certain freedoms and liberties, granted to us in our Constitution.

We like to say that.

But, rights, such as those found in the First Amendment, aren't there for our enjoyment. Comfort food like chocolate is there for our enjoyment. A good movie is there for our enjoyment. Picnics on the beach are there for our enjoyment.

We must remember to do more than "enjoy" the right to vote, the right to a free press, the right to express ourselves. We need to "exercise" those rights and not just on occasion when it fits into our schedule. We must make sure our schedule fits around exercising our rights.    

With all the venues of self-expression available at our fingertips, we have no excuse not to use the freedoms granted to us in the First Amendment. With traditional forms of a free press we've had for hundreds of years, coupled with the various layers of expression available to us through technology and the Internet as they continue to flourish, whatever we have to say, write, debate or learn is there for the taking and the giving.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech is difficult at times when incorrect information is disseminated or the opinion expressed is not what you believe. But, as Americans we must not stand on the sidelines when we care about an issue. Get in the game so your voice is heard during the discussion and debate. You might be the one who helps make change or break change. You might learn something from another point of view, or perhaps your original opinion will be strengthened by what others share.

In my opinion, a freedom unused is a freedom abused, a liberty not exercised is a liberty diminished by apathy, and a constitutional right stands to fade in importance if that right is not protected by the people for whom it was written. The best way to protect our freedom of the press and freedom of speech is by using it.

Thomas Jefferson once said: "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

I think Mr. Jefferson was trying to say where there is government without an exchange of ideas among the people and a mechanism for that to take place, there is no true chance for a society to advance. We must not forget to keep exchanging and keep advancing.

Sherry Bourgeois is a Herald-Mail copy editor. She can be reached by calling 301-733-5131, ext. 7587, or sending an e-mail to

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