Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Let freedom ring

When the Bill of Rights was ratified by the states in 1791, Americans were guaranteed five personal freedoms: the freedom of religion, of speech, of the press and of peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress.

Today, only 3 percent of Americans can name the five freedoms enumerated in the first of the 10 amendments contained in the Bill of Rights.

Now, thanks to a grant from the Liberty Tree Initiative, Lehigh will learn anew what the First Amendment means to Americans.

The Liberty Tree Initiative, a partnership that includes the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Knight Foundation, the McCormick Foundation and the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, has offered grants to 10 schools to promote awareness on America’s college campuses of the First Amendment’s fundamental freedoms.

The grant to Lehigh, awarded to associate professor Kathy Olson on behalf of the department of journalism and communication, will help support a series of events titled Lehigh Celebrates the First!

“I think everybody, not just students, tends to take First Amendment rights for granted—people are surprised to learn that Harry Potter has been banned, for instance,” says Olson. “I hope the program will serve not only to educate but also to recharge the Lehigh community's commitment to the values of free speech and the press.”

“Lehigh Celebrates the First!” will consist of several events over the fall semester, and will kick off during Banned Books Week, Sept. 27 through Oct. 3. Banned Books Week is a nationally recognized week that observes the intellectual freedom to read.

The Fairchild-Martindale Library will host an exhibit on book censorship in the main lobby and will make copies of banned books available for check-out. Faculty, staff and students may also submit their tribute to “Banned Books (and Music! and Movies!) We Love,” an online collection of testimonials about censored books, music or movies.

On Monday, Sept. 28, Jim Speese, a teaching assistant in the English department, will lead a discussion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel which is often believed to address the issue of book burning. The event will begin in the Humanities Center at 4 p.m.

Next month, the celebration will continue with the planting of a “liberty tree” outside Coppee Hall on October 19 at 3 p.m. Later that evening, at 7 p.m. in Whitaker Auditorium, the series of events will culminate with “Fight the Power: The Music That Changed America,” a multimedia program on music censorship. The event will feature Ken Paulson, president and chief operating officer of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Paulson, the former editor of USA Today, will lead a band of Grammy Award-winning musicians from Nashville.

For more information or to submit a banned book testimonial, visit the Lehigh Celebrates the First! Web page.

Story by --Tricia Long

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2009

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