Editor's note: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shared the remarks contained in this op-ed on the Senate floor on Wednesday, regarding Covington Catholic High School students, the First Amendment, and the presumption of innocence.
I need to say a few words about something that took place this past weekend. Last week, Kentuckians of all ages traveled to our nation’s capital to exercise our fundamental American rights – to peacefully assemble and petition the government. Unfortunately for the students of Covington Catholic High School, their participation has resulted in threats to their lives.
Far-left activists and members of the national and state media isolated a few seconds of video footage from any shred of context, and many decided it was time to attack and denigrate these young people. Because of what some highly partisan observers thought they saw in a few seconds of confusing video, these kids, their school, and their families were met with a deluge of partisan vitriol and hatred from people who never met them and had no idea what had taken place.
Some prominent figures even used this pile-on to propose curtailing the First Amendment for groups with whom they disagreed, even targeting the students’ hats. How quickly some seem to forget why the Framers insisted on those protections in the first place.
In a matter of hours, these students were tried, convicted, and sentenced by the media where accuracy is irrelevant and the presumption of innocence does not exist. To their credit, some apologized for their commentary upon learning more. But by that point, too much damage had already been done.
Because of the startling death threats against the students and their families, Covington Catholic was closed yesterday. The school’s administration is working closely with law enforcement, but it’s unclear when any sense of normalcy might return.
This time, it’s families in my home state who are paying the price for exercising their freedoms. Sadly, this kind of fact-free rush to judgment is becoming an all-too-common occurrence.
If we can learn anything from this weekend, I hope it’s this: When the rush for headlines takes precedence over the facts, mistakes are made and our rights as Americans are put at risk. This trend is particularly troubling when young people are involved.
Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is the U.S. Senate majority leader.
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