Rights Championed at First Amendment Day

In recognition of the importance of free speech and the First Amendment on college campuses, the University of Central Oklahoma will host the first observation of First Amendment Day on April 25.

“This conference will define what the First Amendment means to students on college campuses,” said Erin Barnett, conference co-director. “There are going to be many informative panels and speakers who are champions for it and defend it to the best of their ability.”

Topics covered throughout the day-long conference will include freedom of expression on college campuses, the First Amendment rights of teachers, the importance of the First Amendment to free speech and other topics geared at generating critical discussion on the First Amendment.

The keynote speech, delivered by UCO graduate and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rob Rogers, will focus on the First Amendment and how it relates to satire. Rogers gained nationwide attention when he was fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his satirical columns on President Donald Trump.

Along with educating students on the First Amendment, conference co-director Trevor Stone said he hopes it motivates students to be more involved and engaged with the freedoms they are guaranteed under the First Amendment.

“I think this will give journalists a sort of militia to help them fight the powers of injustice here and internationally who are attempting to discredit and silence the voices of journalism,” Stone said.  “I’m not saying start a war, but social media and words can be a powerful weapon when wielded accompanied with knowledge and the willingness to understand differing ideas from your own.”

The event was announced by UCO President Don Betz to occur in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. The event is largely student-run, led by Barnett and Stone, and advised by Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame Director Joe Hight.

A special unveiling of a First Amendment display will be held in the Mass Communication Building at 2 p.m. The display will be a new permanent feature outside of Mass Communication Room 120.

To increase participation, the event also featured contests for student organizations to submit poster presentations and individual students to submit essays. Prizes for both categories include cash prizes and plaques for first, second and third place.

“I think the contests are a good way for people to not only prove their knowledge for financial and academic gain but also challenge themselves to expand their thinking and knowledge of not only the First Amendment,” Stone said. “Maybe along the way they will learn more about the Constitution in its entirety and, even further, the creation of our country and how it was planned to work.“

Alongside the event, the Journalism Hall of Fame will induct nine Oklahoma journalists and present two lifetime achievement awards at its annual banquet and induction ceremony. The lifetime achievement awards were introduced last year and will be presented to former UCO President W. Roger Webb and current UCO President Don Betz.

“They have shown a commitment to First Amendment and press freedoms throughout their careers and have spotlighted the important role that the press plays in our democratic society,” Hight said. “Dr. Webb is responsible for relocating the Hall of Fame at the Nigh University Center and its yearly support. Dr. Betz has maintained that support and also committed to establishing a Hall of Fame museum and improving its presence as a statewide institution.”

Hall of Fame inductees for 2019 include M.J. Alexander, internationally recognized journalist; Mary Bishop-Baldwin, Tulsa World assistant editor; Brian Blansett, owner of the Tri-County Herald; Ziva Branstetter, The Washington Post’s corporate accountability editor; Chris Casteel, The Oklahoman’s news director; Bob Dotson, retired NBC- TV correspondent and author; Wayne Greene, the Tulsa World’s editorial page editor; Griff Palmer, former New York Times reporter; and Timothy E. Talley, political reporter for The Associated Press.

“This is a high-profile class of inductees who represent national, regional and local news organizations. It’s also the 49th class and one that kicks off our 50th anniversary of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame,” Hight said. “But most of all it represents a group of individuals who have distinguished themselves in their profession.”

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