How often do you think about your right to free speech and free expression? What about your right to public assembly, or the protection of a free press that holds leaders and corporations and your fellow citizens accountable?

These basic freedoms were placed at the very top of the Bill of Rights because they’re vital to America’s very structure.

At a time when these vital protections are increasingly under attack, a free conference organized by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments will explore the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion, expression, the press, public assembly and government petition.

April Ryan headshot courtesy of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

This event — called The First Amendment for the 21st Century: Current Threats and Community Responses — is free, but seating is limited to 400. Register here to guarantee a seat at what is expected to be a sold-out event on June 21 at the August Wilson Center and on June 22 at the Creative and Performing Arts School.

Speakers will include April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington, D.C. bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, Indira Lakshmanan, a Washington columnist for The Boston Globe and the Newmark Chair in Journalism Ethics at the Poynter Institute, and Mickey Edwards, Republican member of Congress representing Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District for 16 years and now vice president of the Aspen Institute and lecturer at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Among the conference themes: how threats to the First Amendment weaken democracy, how college students view basic freedoms and whether right-to-know laws enhance First Amendment powers.

Sessions will also explore the role of artists in elevating free expression and how technology can advance or inhibit our exercise of basic freedoms.

Look for photography from the International Free Expression Project, conversations with artists Jasiri X and Vanessa German, and performances from Pittsburgh CAPA students. Also, a conversation with award-winning documentary filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, who will present scenes from his documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” a chilling account of threats to press freedom as viewed through the lens of the Gawker-Hulk Hogan libel case.

Mickey Edwards headshot courtesy of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

“We view this conference as a much-needed response to some alarming signs that our First Amendment freedoms are being eroded in a period of unprecedented political divisiveness,” said event co-host Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, in an announcement about the event. “The conference will examine the threats and offer responses that show the First Amendment as a unifying force important to all of us as Americans, no matter our backgrounds, economic circumstances or political ideologies.”

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The Associated Press. Find a selection of her work at