Planting First Amendment seeds

By David Bulla

Monument to the original Liberty Tree at Washington in Essex near Boston Common (photo by David Bulla)

Monument to the original Liberty Tree at Washington and Essex near Boston Common (photo by David Bulla)

BOSTON — Sandy Chance, mass communication law professor at the University of Florida, and Gene Gene Policinski, director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., planted some pretty good seeds for those who want to raise consciousness about freedom of expression at a journalism educators’ conference Friday (Aug. 7).

In a panel titled “Instilling Appreciation for the First Amendment, On Our Campuses and Beyond,” Chance and Policinski made a pitch for planing Liberty Trees. As Chance observed, Boston was the appropriate place to discuss the idea. After all, Samuel Adams and other Patriots used an elm that stood on what is now Washington and Essex near Boston Common as a rallying point for their grievances against the British monarchy two and a half centuries again.

UF and the First Amendment Center have started the Liberty Tree Initiative, and the idea is to plant an elm at schools around the country to remind students, faculty and the general public of the prominence of civil rights in our nation’s history. The initiative combines educators, journalists, librarians, artists and authors to increase awareness of the First Amendment.

To help reach those objectives, the Initiative is planting $5,000 grants around the country. So far, winners have included Berry College, Eastern Kentucky University, Elon University, Lehigh University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Winthrop University, California State University, Fullerton, NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Winston-Salem State University and Yale Yale University.

The schools are to use the grant money to encourage the study of First Amendment principles. Activities include town hall discussion, college coffees, construction and maintenance of First Amendment Web sites, panel discussions and musical performances.

Of course, schools also will plant Liberty Trees on campus. Berry did so during the spring semester.

For more information, contact Chance at:

I would also encourage anyone who is considering some sort of First Amendment event to contact Cynthia Mitchell at Central Washington University. CWU’s free-expression festival is first-rate, and she has many ideas about how to get organized and deal with those difficult logistical issues, especially fund raising. Her e-mail address is:

The panel was sponsored by the Law and Policy and Scholastic Journalism divisions of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

One Response to “Planting First Amendment seeds”

  1. Gene Policinski Says:

    David: Thanks for your blog item! Would you mind posting it (and the photo) on the wall at the Liberty Tree Initiative Facebook page? And congrats to you your the Friday presentation, as well. Gene

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