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Licensing journalists violates First Amendment rights

Posted on 11.08.2017

“Marine Corps veteran and defender of the Constitution”

This is the biography on the Twitter page of Indiana State Representative Jim Lucas (R-Seymour). The latter part of that biography, “defender of the Constitution,” is pretty ironic considering Lucas might propose a bill in Indiana that would require professional journalists to be licensed. If this bill were to pass, it would be in direct conflict with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states, “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.”

Lucas’  proposal seems to be a response to various media outlets’ criticisms of his efforts to repeal the Indiana law that requires handgun owners to register for a permit. In an interview with the Indianapolis Star Lucas said, “If you’re OK licensing my Second Amendment right, what’s wrong with licensing your First Amendment right?”

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Graphic by Alexis Stella

Lucas seems to have hopped on the “fake news” bandwagon that many politicians use today to deflect criticism of their leadership and ideas. He claims that if he were as irresponsible with his guns as journalists are with their keyboards, then he would be in jail.

I understand that its main purpose is not to actually accomplish anything, but to draw more attention to the gun licensing issue. This proposal is a scheme to bring up during his next election campaign to garner support from gun enthusiasts and those who buy into the “fake news” propaganda that is being echoed throughout the country. I have an issue with Lucas claiming to be a “defender of the Constitution” when he seems to only be concerned with he Second Amendment.

Although journalists do not have to have licenses, they do have restrictions on what they can say, contrary to what Lucas may think. Libel laws keep journalists from making defamatory statements. Copyright laws prevent journalists from using the intellectual property of organizations, companies and individuals without consent. Professional journalists almost always have a four-year college degree in journalism or a similar profession. This means that journalists going into their field have to have knowledge of the ethical and legal guidelines that pertain to journalism before they can even hope to get a job. Gun owners are not required to take courses in order to buy guns. I won’t get into the issue of gun rights, but comparing these two issues is like comparing apples to oranges.

While I do agree with Lucas that some journalistic outlets have become increasingly partisan, and some journalists do use their freedom of the press irresponsibly, they do not represent the majority. But his stance seems a bit hypocritical when Lucas himself has retweeted articles from Breitbart, an overtly and unapologetically biased news source. Just as it would be foolish to blame all gun owners for mass shootings, it’s foolish to attribute the mistakes of a few journalists to the majority.

Lucas needs to keep in mind that journalism exists to question authority,  not to serve it.  Although I doubt this bill will pass, it still worries me that a policy maker would so blatantly attempt to restrict the First Amendment, the foundation of democracy. Hopefully,  Lucas will reconsider his position. Lucas should understand that to be a “defender of the Constitution” it takes more than supporting gun rights; it means allowing those who  have differing opinions and viewpoints to speak out and provide thought-provoking arguments. I invite Lucas to do the same, rather than crying out, “Fake news!” whenever someone disagrees.

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