"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?"
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On a flight to the West Coast last week, I was seated beside a young, apparently well-read computer wizard who offered a flattering appraisal of my reporting for FOX News while embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Regrettably, he then picked up a review of the "Al Qaeda Reader," a forthcoming compilation of writings by Osama bin Laden and his ilk detailing their hatred for the United States. Pointing to the book title, my traveling companion suggested that the publisher should be "sent to join his friends in Guantanamo." While I understood the sentiment, I'm sure I lost a fan forever when I disagreed. Here's why.
The First Amendment to our Constitution continues to spark unremitting scholarly, political and legal debate as to what Messrs. Madison, Mason, et al. had in mind when it comes to religious liberty. Yet, in those same erudite circles, unless it has to do with regulating broadcasts or disseminating child porn, almost no one suggests that government regulate what can be published.
Even when the lives of others are put at risk, the United States, practically alone in the world, zealously protects purveyors of government secrets or classified information. Unlike our British brethren, we're never going to have an "Official Secrets Act" -- nor should we. The legacy of Tom Paine, pamphleteer, is that a "free press" is supposed to help check the power of government. But prosecuting publishers is different from locking up leakers. History is a pretty good guide -- but who bothers with history?
In the summer of 1942, shortly after the Battle of Midway, Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and a bitter political opponent of FDR, learned that America's first victory at sea in World War II had been achieved by breaking the Japanese Naval code. It was true, and though the information was highly classified, McCormick went ahead and published the story.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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