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The beauty of the First Amendment

POSTED: April 11, 2011 2:49 p.m.

Although I am supposed to keep my opinions to myself, anyone who knows me well knows that I have an opinion about everything. I've never been one to keep too quiet when I see an injustice, which, at times, has gotten me in heaps of trouble. I'm a journalist; I'm not to have an opinion in my writing. Fine. But when it comes to having a spoken opinion about things in everyday life, I've got enough to drive anyone crazy.

Today I read a story on the New York Times website that deeply saddened me. It didn't happen in America, but it is something that makes me appreciate America and all the freedoms I have living here.

Maikel Nabil, is a 26-year-old in Egypt who was arrested for criticizing the military in a blog. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Here's the link to the story:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/12/world/middleeast/12egypt.html?_r=1&hp

Imagine not being able to express your opinion on the streets, on a blog, on a sign or in a protest. Think of how suppressive it would be to not be able to say what's on your mind, to talk among peers about the state of your government, military or economy. The charges against the blogger include "insulting the military establishment and spreading false information about the armed forces."

“Maikel is the first prisoner of conscience in Egypt after the revolution,” Adel Ramadan, one of his lawyers, said in a telephone interview. “This ruling is a warning to all journalists, bloggers and human rights activists in Egypt that the punishment for criticizing the army is a sentence in a military prison.”

As I finished reading the article, I thought about how lucky I am to be able to express my thoughts and opinions in my country without fear of prosecution. I can talk about my religion, holler about politics and carry on about anything under the sun. Other countries don't allow its citizens to have such rights, and it is a sad, horrible thing. I wonder if I had been in Maikel's position if I would have posted things anyways, even if I knew I could possibly go to prision. He wrote under a pen name, but he was still discovered and thrown in jail. How many Egyptians go days, weeks or years without publicly ever giving an opinion? I don't know that I could ever handle living in such a place where it was imperative that I keep my opinions to myself. But then I think, what if the punishment had been death instead?  Would I still keep on shouting out my opinion from the rooftops? I don't know.

But I do know that I am thankful for the beautiful words in the Bill of Rights, especially 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."

Although we may not always agree with one another, we still have the right to have an opinion. And to me, I think it is one of the most important rights we all have as Americans.

 

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