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Even the Obama administration has not bought that argument, as it only charged Mr. Snowden with the delivery of classified materials to unauthorized persons. It did not charge him with treason (waging war on the United States or giving aid and comfort to enemies of the nation) or spying (giving classified secrets to U.S. enemies).

Frustrated that Mr. Snowden is apparently living freely in Moscow, Mr. Rogers summoned the FBI director before his House committee to float a truly novel and pernicious theory of First Amendment law. At that hearing, he attempted to persuade Mr. Comey to accept his idea that publishing classified secrets is a crime if the publisher was paid for his work.

If the owners of and reporters at The Guardian of London, The New York Times or The Washington Post, who publicly revealed the secrets Mr. Snowden gave them, were paid for their work, the Rogers argument goes, they, too, could be prosecuted for espionage.

Mr. Rogers is not a lawyer. He is a former FBI agent. He should know the law, but it was necessary for Mr. Comey to tutor him. The law is clear and was stated by the Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case, and Mr. Comey publicly reminded the chairman of this: If classified materials are of interest to the public, their publication is protected.

Stated differently, it matters not how the journalist acquires the classified materials or whether the journalist and his bosses are paid for their work. If the classified materials are newsworthy, they can be published, and no one can be sued or prosecuted for doing so.

In the clash between government secrecy and public transparency, the Framers placed a value judgment in the First Amendment. Since the press is the eyes and ears of the public, and since the public needs to know what the government is doing so it can make informed decisions when electing people to the government, publishers and reporters are immune from criminal prosecution and civil liability for lifting the veil on the government’s secrets.

An informed public is more likely to make better decisions than an ignorant one.

I am happy that Mr. Comey did not fall for Mr. Rogers‘ ignorant argument, and I am happy, too, that the argument will fall on deaf ears. In a free society, knowledge is superior to ignorance. Politicians who would criminalize publishing the truth should be voted out of office.

Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is an analyst for the Fox News Channel. He has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution.