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Frank Rizzo | Democrat

A SURPRISED MITCHELL Ellmauer, center, with striped shirt, is congratulated by his parents Mike, sitting at left, and, and Patricia, at right. Sitting at far right is Sullivan West Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hilton. Standing are High School Principal Margie Tenbus and Mitchell’s Advanced Placement history teacher, Larry Layman.

Ellmauer wins satewide essay contest and $10,000 scholarship

By Frank Rizzo
LAKE HUNTINGTON — March 18, 2008 — Being a “political junkie” and history buff really paid off for Mitchell Ellmauer of Youngsville.
To the tune of $10,000.
The Sullivan West Junior recently entered the New York Press Association’s (NYPA) Second Annual First Amendment Essay Contest, which was sponsored locally by the Sullivan County Democrat.
The twice-weekly newspaper’s staff judged his entry to be the best of those submitted from all of Sullivan County.
Ellmauer’s essay impressed enough editors statewide to make the cut to the final 20 – of the 175 total entries – which were then resubmitted to member newspapers for the final judging.
The good news of Mitchell’s award came to the Sullivan County Democrat last Thursday morning via email.
“I nearly fell off my chair,” an elated Fred Stabbert III, Democrat publisher, said. “I immediately called Sullivan West Superintendent Ken Hilton to tell him the good news.
“We decided to keep it a secret about Mitch winning the grand prize to really surprise the Ellmauers,” he said.
So when Stabbert and Democrat Editor Frank Rizzo showed up yesterday morning, only a few administrators at the school were in on the secret; all the Ellmauers knew was that Mitchell was a “finalist” in the contest.
Thus the complete shock and surprise when Stabbert read from NYPA’s official press release naming Mitch the winner at a ceremony held in the high school’s library yesterday morning.
“We couldn’t ever imagine it,” said his proud mom Patricia, a music teacher at Sullivan West, who cut the entry out of the Democrat and laid it on Mitchell’s desk some four months ago.
“Not too many 16-year-olds take a weekend off to write an essay,” she said.
“I couldn’t believe we managed to keep it a secret,” said SW Superintendent Kenneth Hilton, with a chuckle.
“I didn’t think I’d win,” agreed Mitchell.
“He has a deep and keen interest in American history and he’s aware of politics,” commented Larry Layman, Ellmauer’s Advanced Placement history teacher.
“It’s more of an obsession than a hobby,” said Mitchell, who spent a week last summer at Georgetown University getting a feel for how government works, including a daylong visit to the Canadian Embassy.
After the presentation, H. S. Principal Margie Tenbus made a special announcement to the school so everyone could share the Ellmauers’ excitement.
His future plans include possibly attending America University (in Washington, D.C.) to major in International Relations.
“This (essay) was good practice for next year when he has to write his college essay,” said his father, Mike, a longtime science teacher and coach at Sullivan West.
The NYPA Essay Contest was open to all 11th and 12th grade students in New York State. 
Designed to foster knowledge and understanding of the First Amendment, the Foundation’s annual statewide competition asked students to interpret the First Amendment.
“Mitchell’s essay was a winner regardless of whether he won or not,” Stabbert said. “We feel that oftentimes our commitment to keep the First Amendment in the forefront of our readers is an uphill battle.
“But obviously Mitchell understands the importance of the First Amendment and how deeply it has helped form our history,” Stabbert said.
Ellmauer’s essay
Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In 2005, about 250,000 people marched on Washington DC to protest the Iraq War. Without the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, the government might have violently suppressed the protesters. The First Amendment ensures our freedom to protest (here the people’s right of free speech, the right of assembly and the right to petition the government are combined) government actions and injustices; it has been frequently exercised to expand democracy and promote social justice. The 19th Amendment exists because women’s suffrage activists organized marches and speeches and leafleted and petitioned for Universal Suffrage. The eight-hour workday, minimum wage, collective bargaining, and other workers’ rights are the products of decades of protest by the Labor Movement. The Civil Rights Movement successfully campaigned for an end to racial segregation and government sanctioned racial discrimination.
Of course, there are many instances in which the government does not protect the public’s First Amendment rights, and protest is wrongly suppressed. Consider the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 (which made it illegal to speak out against the government or the military) or anti-segregation marches in Alabama, which were met with fire hoses and police dogs. More recently, the Bush administration regularly uses “free speech zones,” which require protesters to remain in a designated area, to conceal protest from the media and, thus, from the public. But, with exceptions, the rule of law prevails. The Espionage and Sedition Acts were ruled unconstitutional in 1969 by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio. The case established that “mere abstract teaching of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence” cannot be prohibited. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was beaten and jailed for campaigning against Jim Crow laws, today he is considered a national hero for helping end the South’s Apartheid system of racial segregation. The same government that spied on him and attempted to blackmail him honors Dr. King with a national holiday.
Thus, the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and petition, in essence our inalienable right to publicly express our opinions, are essential to the functioning of any democracy (the freedom of religion, while important, is irrelevant to the right of protest). Actions taken which infringe on First Amendment freedoms and other civil rights have almost always been met with widespread public outrage. The Kent State massacre sparked massive protests across the country, people eventually tired of the anticommunist hysteria of the 1950s and Joseph McCarthy was censured; images of police violence against civil rights activists turned public opinion in favor of the Civil Rights Movement. Because a democratic government serves the people, ultimately it must concede to the demands of the masses. Thus, in Nazi Germany the freedoms of speech and assembly were the first to be suspended. The freedoms protected by the First Amendment are the most sacred of all our civil liberties; for they give a voice to the electorate between elections and serve to truly empower the people!

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