The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. It prohibits any laws that establish a national religion, impede the free exercise of religion, abridge the freedom of speech, infringe upon the freedom of the press, interfere with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

The U.S. Supreme Court requires significant reason for government interference in the regulation of content. It allows individual expression through publication, and does not allow media any privileges not allowed to the public.

The protection of speech is also situational based on the forum. The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” Not only is freedom of speech a bedrock of our great nation, it is recognized as a primary freedom around the world.

In America, the freedom of expression may vary state to state. In most circumstances, the law protects a variety of speech. The Supreme Court allows for prohibiting speech in the case of disturbing the peace or causing harm. Speech was intended to be free. Seemingly, the best way to counter opposing speech is with more and better speech—a free exchange of ideas, where the best ideas rise to the top, to be constantly challenged. Our leaders can then compromise on these ideas for the betterment of people’s lives.

Change can be unrecognizable in the moment. An individual’s particular views may not be accepted everywhere, though we are still free to seek out or create our own place for speech. An economy based on capital will guarantee a marketplace for ideas to spread and flourish. To quash a person or person’s speech is anti-speech, regardless of intentions. With an abundance of information at our fingertips, the quest for wisdom is more attainable than ever. Freedom of self-expression and an open marketplace has made our society what it is, past, present and future.

Admiration for our freedoms has people coming to America from all around the world. These freedoms allow for people to be unique and to thrive as individuals and in society. Next time we pay a tax or read something we don’t agree with, we should take the opportunity to consider some gratitude. Americans are thought of as strong, resilient and free. Most of all, I think we are fortunate—fortunate we inherited these freedoms that give us what we have.

The right to freedom of the press is just as contentious now as it always has been. Whether avoiding libel laws or pursuing government leaks, freedom of the press is how news-gathering is done and presented. Erosion of that right is an erosion of all our rights. All free societies have freedom of the press. The press is a forum to publish fact without threat or censorship. With that freedom comes responsibility to publish the truth and not cause public harm. The flow of information is a necessity for an accountable and transparent society. Any sort of attack on freedom of expression or freedom of the press, even unintentional or indirect, should never be accepted. It’s fundamentally not what we as a country stand for.

In January, I was arrested for destroying the property of the Idaho Mountain Express. It wasn’t my intentions to be anti-speech, even though it was and appeared that way. My actions were spontaneous, not thought out and irrational. In hindsight, it’s easy for me to see how self-serving and self-interested my actions were.

The local population in several towns uses the paper for a variety of reasons. My actions interfered with their access to the newspaper. I did not even consider the utility of the newspaper in the moment. To all of you affected by my actions, I apologize. I hope my sentence is fitting for your inconvenience and that you are compensated for any losses. I would also like to apologize to anyone indirectly affected by my actions against the paper and the rule of law. During my time writing this apology, I have had time to consider the words of Idaho Mountain Express Publisher Pam Morris and Judge Dan Dolan. What I did was wrong, and I would encourage anybody thinking about any such actions to not follow my lead. I am motivated by only doing my best work moving forward.

Andrew T. Conner lives in Hailey.

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