The First Amendment Right to not understand the First Amendment.

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.

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There are few things that irritate me as much as willful ignorance, and that’s exactly what this is.

Back in November, as protests burst out on the University of Missouri campus, a student journalist named Tim Tai set out to cover the demonstration. He was, however, met with some resistance from protesters.

To be quite clear, the demonstrators and faculty member(s) blocking his view were being extremely rude and were asserting rights they didn’t have (they had no power to block him from a public space on a public campus). And it would have been great had this been written up for what it was: a mess.

Instead, what followed was a flurry of thinkpieces chastising the students (as a whole… like… all the protesters) and claiming that they had somehow infringed on Mr. Tai’s first amendment rights.

“[Mizzou professor Brian Kratzer] says he has witnessed what he’s called an ‘a la carte’ approach to the First Amendment, in which some rights were observed and others ignored.

“At the beginning, as one of the leading black student groups started to plan the protests, journalists who arrived at open meetings on campus were told to put down their cameras and close their notebooks. Such journalistic tools would inhibit free conversation, they were told. One student leader who ultimately went on a hunger strike forged a cordial relationship with a photographer who captured many key moments.

“Faculty members who joined the movement were advised by email and Twitter not to talk to reporters but to refer inquiries to one or two protest leaders. By the time the protests emerged on the Carnahan Quad, demonstrators sought to squash the right of student reporters and journalists to document their cause. They did it with signs saying ‘No Media.’ They did so with words of warning, with implied menace; even, in some cases, shoving reporters away from a campus quad where they had every right to operate.”

The problem is that no one’s First Amendment rights were violated. It’s the media’s right to show up, to film and report without being arrested for doing so; it’s not their right to compel people into making that reporting easy or even convenient. Students were within their rights to ask journalists not to film (journalists didn’t have to listen). The First Amendment doesn’t mean you need to smile and play along if a reporter shoves a camera in your face.

I saw a similar thing happen recently regarding the protests against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Except, again, no one’s First Amendment rights were being violated. Sure, someone yelling “Fuck your press rights!” in response to someone asserting “press rights” they didn’t actually have is probably a bit rude, but if anything, that’s an expression of someone’s free speech, not a suppression of it.

There’s a difference between being rude and infringing on Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Want to see someone’s speech being suppressed? How about this?

NPR’s Sarah McCammon tweeted a photo from a recent Donald Trump rally. Journalists there to cover a public figure whose words are (sadly) relevant to the country’s public interest, were put in pens by the Secret Service, a government agency.

And while maybe neither event is an example of free speech being truly violated, which one do you think the media took more issue with?

The college kids, of course. Because… kids! Get off my lawn!

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Kids H8 freeze peach!

Hey, it makes for good fodder!

Free speech and tolerance does not mean someone needs to listen to you or let you photograph them.

It just doesn’t. You want to go up to someone and yell or shove a camera in their face, go for it. You’ve every right to. The other person has the right to tell you off for it, walk away, or just not listen.

My hope for 2016 is that we stop misrepresenting actions for the sake of being readable. Until Congress tries to pass a law abridging the right to publish reported material (they won’t, don’t worry), the First Amendment is safe and sound. Stop acting otherwise. Can you do that for me, media?

Written by

Professional storyteller-human. @Upworthy Writer-person. Word-stuff. Opinions my own (and probably wrong).

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