Ridgefield Library series to spotlight the First Amendment

This fall, residents can learn about the past, present and future contexts of the First Amendment from a slate of scholarly speakers in a new series titled, "What Does the First Amendment Mean Today?"

This fall, residents can learn about the past, present and future contexts of the First Amendment from a slate of scholarly speakers in a new series titled, “What Does the First Amendment Mean Today?”

Ridgefield Library / Contributed photo

RIDGEFIELD — This fall, the public can learn about the past, present and future of the First Amendment from a slate of scholarly speakers in a new series titled, “What Does the First Amendment Mean Today?”

The programs were created by the Ridgefield Library, the Ridgefield Historical Society, the League of Women Voters of Ridgefield and other community partners to explore the First Amendment’s foundational principles from historical and contemporary perspectives.

The First Amendment protects the freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly and the right to petition the government.

“For a lot of us the First Amendment ... is kind of a subtext, but (its issues have) really been front and center for the last couple of years,” Assistant Library Director Andy Forsyth said.

These issues include the resulting tensions that have come from exercising freedom of assembly at protests nationwide; speech censorship in traditional and social media platforms; and censoring access to information, which affects the work of public libraries.

“We want people to gain insight into what (the First Amendment) really is ... (from) presenters who could speak to these issues with expertise,” Forsyth said.

The series kicks off Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. with a lecture by legal scholar Akhil Amar, a Sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University, in the library’s main program room.

A book discussion follows Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. with best-selling author Jess Walter, who will discuss his novel, “The Cold Millions,” via Zoom. The work examines free speech and the First Amendment through the lens of historical fiction.

Gloria Browne-Marshall will lead an online lecture Oct. 3 at 5 p.m. to discuss the evolution of freedoms of speech and assembly from the civil rights era to the present. Browne-Marshall is a civil rights attorney and constitutional law professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The series concludes with a panel discussion at the library Oct. 10 at 5 p.m. Ridgefield journalist Todd Brewster will moderate the panel, which features Amar, past ACLU President Nadine Strossen, New York Times journalist Mike McIntire and Ridgefield Library Director Brenda McKinley.

Patrons will be required to wear masks when visiting the library. No social distancing or capacity limits are in place.

Ridgefield Historical Society’s Development and Marketing Director Kathryn Tufano said knowing what is and isn’t protected by the First Amendment is more relevant and timely than ever.

“My personal thought is in the world that we live in — post-Trump but also midstream in a pandemic — it’s really important for people to understand what their rights and responsibilities are,” she said. “What is the difference between real education and the news spin, or the person talking (the) loudest?”

Marilyn Carroll, president of the League of Women Voters of Ridgefield, said the series will provide an opportunity for attendants to learn about their rights.

“Our mission is to defend democracy and empower voters. That can only be done when the First Amendment … (is) vigorously protected and widely understood and respected,” she said. “Educating the public about those five freedoms and their importance to a civil society that welcomes a diversity of opinions is critical.”

For information or to register, visit the events calendar at ridgefieldlibrary.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com