First Amendment Project

Educators looking for imaginative approaches to enhance their mandated civics requirements might consider a program launched last year by the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG).

Under the free CFOG First Amendment Project, teams of lawyers and journalists visit participating high school classes to discuss the history and practical applications of First Amendment, Freedom of Information and Open Government policies.

These lively, knowledgeable and interactive sessions drew very positive results and CFOG plans to expand the program to even more high schools during the current academic year. Among the high schools participating in the inaugural year of the program were East Lyme High School and Lyman Hall in Wallingford. To increase awareness of the long-hallowed rights, presenters will not only examine the history of Free Speech in America but examine ways that citizens – including students – can utilize laws and regulations to protect their speech and get access to information being closely held by the government.

Since participation will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, contact Mitchell Pearlman at

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The First Amendment Works for You

Unlike any other revolutionaries in history, America’s Founding Fathers didn’t keep the power to themselves; they enshrined our Liberties in the Bill of Rights. On Tuesday, January 23, 2018 veteran journalist Denis Horgan and lawyer Dan Klau from the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government conducted a discussion about how the First Amendment protects we the people from losing the right to speak out, to have a voice, and to know what the government is doing.

This liberty is always under attack at so many levels, possibly never more so than today.  Where did this precious right come from? How can you make it work? How can you defend it? The program’s two speakers are stalwart defenders of the First Amendment and led a wide-ranging and helpful discussion of the core values that distinguishes this nation from all others.

The free program at Connecticut’s Old State House was part of the “Conversations at Connecticut’s Old State House” series.

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“The Stories Behind the Best Stories of 2017”

When the history of 2017 is written, scholars will need all their strength to analyze an amazing year of events in Connecticut! An unparalleled state budget crisis. GE leaving for Boston. Aetna leaving for NYC (or maybe just merging!). Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria. The Sheff magnet program under fire. Repeated patient abuse at Whiting Forensic — and on and on.

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, at The Lyceum in Hartford, six accomplished, savvy reporters discussed the “stories behind the stories” — the tips they received, the sources they consulted, the difficulties they faced, the doubts that troubled them, the barriers they overcame and how, ultimately, they produced some of the year’s finest reporting!

CFOG thanks an overflow audience of more than 100 people, moderator Susan Campbell for her outstanding work throughout the program, and the insights of a terrific panel of professionals:

  • Christine Stuart, CT News Junkie
  • Dan Haar, Hearst Newspapers
  • Mark Pazniokas, CT Mirror
  • Vinny Vella, Hartford Courant
  • Vanessa de la Torre, WNPR
  • Josh Kovner, Hartford Courant

 Missed it?  To watch the video of the program, courtesy of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network, click here OR image below.


Video Flashback:  

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2016 

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Annual Essay Contest for High School Students

Learn more about the essay contest on right to know and open government issues, and read contest winning essays from recent years.

The 2018 CFOG Essay Contest is underway.  Students may choose one of the following topics:

  1. After a student-organized speech, “It is OK to be White,” ended in a shouting and shoving match, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst proposed new rules for speakers and events on campus. Safety concerns and the background of speakers and their affiliates will have to be evaluated under the rules. Does this hamper free expression on campus?
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing his religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found the baker violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. Does the First Amendment protect the baker’s decision not to make a cake for a same-sex couple?
  3. Does the First Amendment protect the right of National Football League players to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against racial inequality and police treatment of minorities?


Essays must be at least 400 words but no more than 600 words and emailed no later than March 28, 2018, to Essays should include the student’s full name, school, grade and teacher email contact information.

Winners will be announced by May 15, 2018.

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For more information about CFOG programs and initiatives, please contact us.