Sunshine Week is never to be confused with spring break.

Sunshine Week, traditionally marked in the third week of March, springs from our nation’s principle of freedom of expression. Each year, citizens, elected officials and proponents of open government and free speech bring attention to this uniquely American cultural element by promoting transparency and accountability in government.

The United States is home to a history-altering Constitution. The document is brave and brilliant in setting the framework of how the then-new nation would operate. But the actual freedoms Americans celebrate reside more directly in our Bill of Rights.

And each day, we must always be on guard to protect our freedoms and liberties, for much like the soil bank along a gentle stream, erosion comes quietly yet effectively. Look away, and before long, your soil — or rights — is gone forever.

Essentially, our core freedoms come from the Bill of Rights. When drafting it, the authors defined the roles between the individual’s rights and those of the central government.

Top of the list to protect? To designate the freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government.

Think about that for a moment. The government was explicitly instructed by founding documents to respect and remove itself from restricting actions related to free speech, an independent press, the practicing of religion, the right to assemble and bring forth grievances against the government.

Notably, the rights reside with the people, not the government.

Herein lies the reason for Sunshine Week — without careful attention and the citizens challenging the encroachment on these given rights, they can — and will — be washed downstream forever.

As citizens, we owe it to our future generations to watch and protect the liberties we rightfully own.

The government serves the people, not the other way around. Transparency by the government is not a convenience but rather a birthright for each American citizen. In other words, your right to know is the default, not the government deciding what your business is.

Power is difficult to manage, and the instinct is to protect — thus restrict information flow. But good servants of government know this is to push citizens to the sidelines, silencing their voices with clever legal tactics.

But you, as a citizen, should be able to know anything your government is doing, unless it’s determined to fall within a very narrow window of agreed-upon exceptions.

Who are the candidates for school board president? Why is the purchase of a piece of land shielded from a neighbor? The default lies in your right to know.

If you want to know something about your government, it is up to the government to prove that it is not your business — not for you to prove that it is.

Sunshine Week is about reminding people they are the true owners of rights related to open records, free speech and publicly disagreeing with the government without reprisal.

Please support Sunshine Week. Thank elected officials who respect your rights to know as a citizen. And support your local press, whose rights also are defaulted to the right to know and share with the citizens.

President Thomas Jefferson wrote if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The Daily News invites you to recognize and protect your rights. Future generations are counting on you.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com.

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(4) comments

Charlotte O'rourke

“Sunshine Week is about reminding people they are the true owners of rights related to open records, free speech and publicly disagreeing with the government without reprisal.”

Definitely rights worth keeping. Does anyone know when public meetings will be reinstated and residents can directly petition their local government in person?

Richard Illyes

After the endless demands to stop so called Hate Speech by the Woke, this is a wonderful restatement of the values and ideas in the foundational structure of our nation.

Thanks.

Bailey Jones

In 1906 Mark Twain said, "There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe - only two - the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here. I may seem to be flattering the sun, but I do not mean it so; I am meaning only to be just and fair all around. You speak with a million voices; no one can reach so many races, so many hearts and intellects, as you."

He was speaking at an AP dinner to encourage reporters to use "simplified spelling" and plain language. And while he was addressing the Associated Press in particular, his comment about carrying light to all the corners of the globe applies to every newspaper - and these days, every type of media - that reports truth and fact, and I would include the GCDN among those.

During Sunshine Week we should all be grateful for open records (sunshine) laws and open meeting laws which require governments to publish and promote openness and transparency. The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by LBJ on July 4, 1966, and amended with The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments by Bill Clinton in 1996. They established the "right-to-know" as a fundamental pillar of our democracy.

Damon Keith, the longest-serving African-American judge and the grandson of slaves, ruled against Richard Nixon and his attorney general, John Mitchell, in the famous wiretapping case of 1971. In a 2002 ruling against the Bush Administration's plan to secretly deport terrorism suspects, he wrote "The Executive Branch seeks to uproot people’s lives, outside the public eye, and behind a closed door. Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately in deportation proceedings. When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation."

The phrase "Democracies die behind closed doors" was transformed by Bob Woodward into "democracy dies in darkness", which was adopted in 2017 as the motto of The Washington Post.

Charlotte O'rourke

Excellent post. “When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people.” We are now in a period of having the door closed, with Texas government saying all businesses can open full capacity and decide on masks, but government will stay closed with masks required and no public meeting access.

I don’t believe businesses should open fully and everyone should wear a mask until everyone is vaccinated, but if Texas government really believes their recent position ..... open your own doors first.

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