National Constitution Center opens First Amendment Gallery

The 1,500-square-foot exhibit includes interactive elements and a letter written by George Washington to the Quakers in 1789.

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The National Constitution Center's First Amendment Gallery highlights the "Five Freedoms" of speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

The National Constitution Center’s First Amendment Gallery is now open, featuring more than 20 artifacts depicting the “Five Freedoms.”

To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the NCC’s opening, the gallery is highlighting the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion.

Visitors will also be able to play a game to test their knowledge of what is — and isn’t — protected by the First Amendment, as well as an interactive touch table exploring religious liberty cases.

It’s the first addition to the NCC’s permanent exhibit since it opened 20 years ago.

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“The National Constitution Center exhibit team is doing something absolutely unique in America, which is to tell a constitutional story through words and images and artifacts,” said President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen. “It’s a complicated story. The legal principles were hard fought. The attempt to protect freedom of conscience required tremendous sacrifice, and to display all of that accurately and in an inspiring, lively, moving, and fun way, is something that is just unique.”

The 1,500-square-foot exhibit includes a letter written by George Washington to the Quakers in 1789, The New York Times’ 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, and a pennant from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rosen said the five freedoms were “forged during times of crisis.”

“It’s so striking when you look at the visual images accompanying the great battles for free speech that many of them took place in wartime,” Rosen said. “These times of crisis both led to oppression, attempts to imprison critics of war, and also to heroic court battles, especially in the modern era.”

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Next week on Sept. 13, the NCC will host the National First Amendment Summit, which will feature author Salman Rushdie as a keynote speaker. The event will focus on “the increasing threats to freedom of expression,” as well as celebrate the new gallery.

Editor’s Note: The National Constitution Center is an underwriter for WHYY News.

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