Newseum Hosts Free-Speech Soapbox on the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

Free-Speech Soapbox

By Denisha Hedgebeth

On Monday, June 15, from noon to 1 p.m., the Newseum and the Newseum Institute will commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta by giving visitors and pedestrians the opportunity to “take a minute” to exercise their right to free speech.

This special free event, which is held in partnership with the London-based magazine Spiked and is part of a series of events and articles in Britain and the United States, will take place on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the Newseum’s 74-foot-tall stone tablet that bears the 45 words of the First Amendment.

“The Magna Carta, as much in lore as in law, set out the concept of ‘speaking truth to power,’ as well as some of the earliest provisions for what today we call our First Amendment rights of religious freedom and petition,” said Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Newseum’s First Amendment Center.

The event will be broadcast on Periscope. Participants are encouraged to use the hashtag #TakeAMinute.

King John of England applied his seal to the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. The document included access to swift justice, the protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment and limitations on feudal payments — providing a basis for the development of individual rights in England and the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States.

A 1542 English translation of the original Magna Carta from 1215 is on display in the Newseum’s Pulliam Family Great Books Gallery — part of a world-class collection of original and rare books and documents that contain some of the most significant influences on American and world political thought.

“We hope that people will use their moment to speak truth to power,” Policinski said. “They’ll be right on Pennsylvania Avenue, the nation’s Main Street, with Congress and Capitol Hill to their left and the White House a few blocks away on their right.”

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