Free if you can afford it

I have been thinking and writing a lot about our rights lately.

I’ll admit that, as no one I know was killed or hurt on 9/11, perhaps it’s easy for me to be “more” concerned about these rights than security from foreign assault (it surely seems we can have both). However, I’d hope that one thing would be as clear were I to have lost a loved one as it is now: that which gives our country any hope of being the “shining city on a hill” – and jingoism notwithstanding, such is well within our collective power – is our Bill of Rights.

I tend to agree with Ben Franklin when he wrote, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This attitude, ballsy as it is, is a cornerstone of our society. Franklin did not speak emptily; his action in signing the Declaration of Independence was tantamount to writing his own death warrant for treason against the Crown. Lionize or vilify the “Founding Fathers” as you will, you can certainly grant that they put their money where their mouths were in a way that our current “leaders” can only fathom in their darkest, most twisted nightmares.

That said there are indeed limits to our rights set mostly by the responsibilities of being an American citizen (something I’m still damn proud to be, regardless of our murderous government). This has been the subject of a series of e-mails I’ve recently exchanged with Lew Church of the PSU Socialist Party.

We had an interesting discussion concerning what does and does not qualify as free speech and a free press. Long story short, Lew and his fellows feel that their constant denial of student fee funding and their publication the Agitator retaining “unofficial” status (as opposed to this paper, the Rearguard, and the Spectator), constitutes an abrogation of their First Amendment rights.

I do not agree. My argument has been that the First Amendment does not guarantee any facilitation of these rights, and we’re specifically talking about funding here, but rather prohibits these rights being denied one. Though lack of access to funding for one’s projects is incredibly stressful and frustrating, it does not equal one being barred from these rights. Lew wrote me, “A free press, if you can afford it?” and the awful truth is, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Understand that the difference lies in the fact that our PSU newspapers are not to be taken as primary sources of information in the same way that nationally syndicated news organs are.

If, for instance, Fox managed to establish a monopoly over our airwaves and print media – that would potentially constitute a denial of our First Amendment rights, as it would bar us from access to variant sources of info. However, the fact that I cannot afford to purchase a TV station is not the same thing. I can still say and write whatever I want, but no one else has the obligation to print it, or read it, or to pay me for it, for that matter, outside of a specific contract delineating such.

This is the unfortunate situation in which the PSUSP find themselves. They have a lot to say, but if you can think of the person who has the responsibility to fund them to do so, point me in their direction posthaste! Joking aside, even the fact that the powers that be most probably would not appreciate a sharper lens such as that potentially offered by the Agitator, directed on their doings, this does not constitute an abuse of PSUSP’s rights.

However, I fully support the Agitator’s quest for cash. I’d like to see what they’ve got to say distributed neatly in racks around campus, if only to keep them from papering our walls, lockers and light posts with their flyers. A real publication that was all theirs would encourage the sharpening of their writing and allow them to focus on real problems here at PSU, like skyrocketing tuition or the hideous lack of training in Financial Aid.

The free dissemination of knowledge is central to the Sensible Insurgency and as I’ve said more than once, to a democratic society. If such is not yet a right, it should certainly be a goal.