The sweep of a Marion, Kan., paper was nothing less than an assault on the First Amendment.
The small town’s police department raided the offices of the Marion County Record, the local family-owned newspaper.
It seized the paper’s computers. The chief ripped a reporter’s cellphone out of her hand, injuring her finger.
Cops even rummaged through the family’s home, snapping pictures of their bank-account information.
Then outrage turned into heartbreak. The day after she suffered the local police ransacking her newspaper and home, Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the Marion County Record, passed away.
What happened in Marion should make every American’s blood boil.
It is an insult to human dignity.
It is an insult to our national values.
And it is an insult to the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson explained the essence of press freedom writing to a friend in 1786: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Securing that liberty is why James Madison enshrined press freedom in the First Amendment.
Because of the First Amendment, no public official can make journalism a crime.
Yet by all accounts, that’s exactly what Marion police and a local magistrate judge did.
A confidential source sent the Marion County Record a tip about a local woman’s criminal history, soon after the woman kicked the newspaper’s reporters out of a political event at her café.
Even then, the paper did not publish a story about the criminal history after verifying it.
Instead, the editor, Eric Meyer (Joan’s son), alerted the Marion police out of concerns about the source.
If that’s the case, the police had no excuse for turning the paper’s lawful newsgathering into an investigation over “identity theft” — let alone for devising an alarmingly broad search warrant against the newspaper.
Marion officials have refused to show the public the search-warrant affidavit.
They withdrew the warrant only Wednesday, but the damage to the paper, its people and a free press in Marion is already done.
The department has taken a different approach to defending its raid, insisting, “No one is above the law, whether a public official or a representative of the media.”
That’s true — including for government officials who trample the First Amendment.
Even if Marion police had reason to believe the newspaper skirted the law’s edge, it wouldn’t justify invading a newsroom.
They could have obtained a subpoena, as federal law likely required.
Or they could have taken a more measured approach, as police who respect the Constitution would have.
But the Marion police chose a speech-chilling raid that would make Russian President Vladimir Putin proud.
And perhaps that was the point.
After all, according to Eric Meyer, the Record had received several tips that Marion’s police chief left his last job under the shadow of misconduct allegations — tips stored on one of the newspaper’s seized computers.
The shocking newsroom raid is just the latest example of the government increasingly using aggressive tactics against the press.
A few years ago, officials in Laredo, Texas, arrested the popular citizen journalist and government critic Priscilla Villarreal simply because she asked a police officer for basic information while she was reporting the news.
More recently in Florida, the FBI seized independent journalist Tim Burke’s devices from his home over what the Justice Department claims is a criminal investigation into leaked Fox News videos.
And who can forget that same DOJ invading the homes of Project Veritas employees as part of a hot-button criminal investigation into the alleged theft of a Biden family diary?
The point is not that journalists have free rein to commit crimes just because they report the news. They don’t.
Rather, it’s that when the government so insistently tries to criminalize journalism, all Americans should be concerned.
Those tactics chill reporting, they discourage confidential sources, and ultimately they thwart our ability to pursue truth.
And in turn, the liberty that depends on the freedom of the press surrenders to government bullies.
You may love the press. Or you may be its staunchest critic.
But we should all agree on one thing: When public officials assault even one newspaper’s freedoms, they assault everyone’s freedoms, including those vital First Amendment rights that give every American a voice.
Don’t let government officials silence us.
Instead, use your voice to demand answers and accountability from Marion police and all other officials who try to stamp out the First Amendment.
Our prized liberty depends on it.
JT Morris is a Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression senior attorney.