News and Tribune

June 5, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Opinions from other newspapers for June 5


Recent editorials from Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press.

 

Congressional delegation needs to support federal shield law

 

For whistleblowers and journalists who wish to expose government secrets and wrongdoing, the past four years have not been kind at the federal level.

After promising transparency, the Obama administration has been perhaps the most aggressive in history in punishing leaks; its posture caught the nation’s attention in May with the revelation the Justice Department had subpoenaed phone records of Associated Press reporters and obtained the emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen.

Now, it appears the overreach may have been just the wake-up call Washington needed.

The scandal has revived the Free Flow of Information Act — the media shield law — that passed the House in 2009 only to fall to a Senate filibuster. The White House has thrown its support behind a new version in the Senate, and there is bipartisan backing for heightened First Amendment protection in some form. The Justice Department, long an opponent of shield laws, has been chastened enough by the latest bad news that it now appears open to the proposal.

It’s long past time for a federal shield law to be enacted, one similar to measures in place in nearly every state, including Indiana. The federal law would protect journalists in most cases from being forced to reveal the identities of confidential sources or to turn over unpublished material to authorities.

Settling on details of the proposal will be a challenge. The bill in the Senate, for example, defines “journalist” more broadly than the one in the House, which does not include student practitioners and others who do not earn income from their efforts. Many students have produced admirable public service journalism and deserve protection. The legislation also needs to acknowledge the rise of citizen journalism in recent years.

Each proposal, however, aims to strike a balance between legitimate needs for government investigative latitude in an age of terrorism and the public’s right to important information that would not flow freely if journalists worked under surveillance and sources who risked their jobs could not be assured anonymity.

Courts would decide, under clear rules, where national security overrode press freedom and where government officials were only serving their own interests in serving subpoenas.

The Hoosier State Press Association is among many media and good-government organizations supporting a shield law. Stephen Key, general counsel to HSPA, says he’s confident a robust law can be hammered out even in the current highly partisan congressional atmosphere.

Given the recent revelations, more than ever, the time is right for Congress finally to adopt a measure designed to ensure that government accountability and transparency aren’t trampled by warrants, subpoenas and intimidation.

 

— The Indianapolis Star

 

End official prayers before public meetings

 

The Indiana General Assembly opened a can of worms with pre-session prayers a couple of years ago that clearly weren’t generic enough to cover a multitude of faiths. And now those worms are back on the shelf, in a sense, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review a case dealing with prayer at local government meetings.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. wants to take a pre-emptive strike against a possible lawsuit and end the practice of prayers before Hammond City Council meetings.

“I’m afraid one day Hammond is going to get sued for violating the First Amendment, and those lawsuits are very expensive,” McDermott said.

The City Council meetings generally begin with a prayer by Councilman Anthony Higgs, and McDermott said he has always “felt uncomfortable” about this practice.

It’s not that McDermott’s own faith is at issue. He’s a devout Catholic. However, he’s also a firm believer in the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a state religion. That’s an important distinction.

Government is of the people, by the people and for the people. It is not the Lord’s government, even though many Americans are fond of asking His blessings on their leaders.

Hammond has already seen civil rights litigation that could have been avoided. In 2011, Michelle Bahus and Samuel Dykstra sued the city to overturn an ordinance prohibiting guns on city property. State law rendered that ordinance obsolete, but the City Council refused to change it.

Remember, this is about doing the public’s business, not the Lord’s. Individuals, not the government, are to serve their Maker.

Let the people in the audience say their prayers or perhaps mutter curses, as they see fit, on their own.

— The Times, Munster