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There’s nothing like beating a dead horse to celebrate Sunshine Week, First Amendment

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

“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.”

No finer words have since been written, and I doubt they ever will.

There’s a reason our founding fathers made this particular amendment the First Amendment.

It is for what American men and women have fought and died for more than 230 years.

Without the First Amendment, we have nothing.

It is, without a doubt, the basis of what makes America the greatest country. Please don’t misunderstand, the entire Constitution is what makes us America, but it is those first words that set the tone for what those men wanted this country to be—great.

Not good—great. Not mediocre—great.

No exceptions.

Nothing makes my blood boil like when I see the First Amendment abused, whether it is through the imposition of your own religious beliefs on the public, ahem, county commissioners and DSS board members, or when someone attempts to stifle free speech or withhold public information.

The First Amendment is not like an a la carte menu at restaurant. You don’t get to pick and choose. You don’t get to use freedom of religion to argue against forcing Catholic institutions to provide contraception, but in the same breath, force your own Christian values on people through legislation.

It’s like a Calabash seafood platter with “no substitutions” written in bold on the menu.

Yes, this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. They are inherent in most laws of this country, as well as conforming with the beliefs of a majority of Americans. But the imposition of a religion is against the principles by which this country was founded.

Of course, we want strong leaders with upstanding morals and a healthy respect to whichever God they pray.

It’s the reason that I, a Catholic who, in an effort to compromise with my Southern Baptist boyfriend, am attending a Lutheran church, and am voting for a Mormon in May.

I know that here in the Bible Belt that may offend some folks, but frankly, I just don’t see a specific religion as a qualifier or a disqualifier for public office. I doubt our founding fathers did, either.

In case you missed the front page of the paper, this week is Sunshine Week—a week dedicated to the First Amendment. In addition to promoting and protecting the First Amendment, it’s about freedom of information and the public’s right to know through promoting the state’s public records and open meetings laws and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

This is the fifth year that we’ve participated in Sunshine Week. We think we do a pretty good job. Other folks do, too, and we hope you do. After all, you all are the reason we do this.

You’ll find pretty much find anything you could ever want to know about public records, open meetings, court access, you name it. If you don’t see it in this week’s paper, email or call me, and I’d be happy to answer your questions.

Despite its name, this week is not all sunshine and rainbows. It is one of my favorite times of the year. I know it sounds nerdy, but I don’t care, it truly is.

But I feel like I’m beating a dead horse. And what kind of way is that to celebrate?

So why is it that I have to deal with public information being withheld from me this week?

Of all weeks!

Why am I looking at an incident report with public information redacted in black?

Why is a colleague asking me for a password for a public computer terminal where members of the public are supposed to be able to read public emails—which are public record? How are members of the public supposed to access information guarded by password?

Why is it that we’re emailing public officials at gmail accounts instead of county accounts?

Why are we continually told we can’t have public information because it’s “under investigation?”

I’m left scratching my head. Have I been too soft? Have I not made myself clear?

Like I said, this is the fifth year we’ve done this, so it’s not a secret.

I think I’ve made my intentions quite clear.

If not, let me take the opportunity to be perfectly clear—public records are property of the people. Public meetings are open to the public—always.

There are no exceptions and, much like the beloved First Amendment, no substitutions.

Caroline Curran is a staff writer and columnist at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or by email at ccurran@brunswickbeacon.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cgcurran.