Program seeks to educate students about First Amendment rights

Program seeks to educate students about First Amendment rights


HAMDEN — Journalists and lawyers are teaming up to educate young people about free speech and open government.

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government launched a pilot program this week pairing media representatives and attorneys to help high school and college students “understand the importance of the First Amendment in their lives,” said Mitchell Pearlman, secretary of the CFOG board of directors and chair of the new initiatives committee.

Presenters will focus on different topics with each age group. High schoolers may discuss what school authorities can do to limit rights of expression, while college students may discuss respecting free speech among differing viewpoints, Pearlman said.

On Monday, CFOG debuted its program at Quinnipiac University with Mike Savino, the Record-Journal’s state Capitol reporter, and William Fish, a Hartford-based attorney with Hinckley Allen. Richard Hanley, Quinnipiac associate professor of journalism, moderated the event.

Savino serves as president of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. He said in the current political climate of threats of press suppression by federal government officials, “we’re on the front line of trying to stand up for the First Amendment.”

Pearlman called Fish, who has represented the Hartford Courant in FOI cases, “one of the most knowledgeable First Amendment lawyers in the United States.”

Fish talked about situations when the government attempts to curtail free speech, starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and continuing through the Patriot Act after 9/11.

“When things gets difficult, we have to be very careful and protective of” the First Amendment, he said.

The program is being held in connection with National Sunshine Week, March 12-18. Freedom of Information laws are often referred to as “sunshine laws” since they shine a light on government information, records and people.

Record-Journal managing editor Eric Cotton and attorney Mary Schwind are scheduled to speak at Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford on Monday. Joy Haenlein, editor of The Advocate/Greenwich Time, and attorney Tom Scheffey are scheduled to talk with students from Maloney and Platt high schools at Platt in Meriden on Tuesday.

Also participating in the pilot program are East Lyme High School, the University of Connecticut at Storrs, Central Connecticut State University and Western Connecticut State University. 203-317-2212 Twitter: @LCTakores

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