Freedom of Speech
Length: 2158 words (6.2 double-spaced pages)
What is "Freedom of Speech"? Finding out is my mission! Webster's defines "freedom" as: the condition of being free of restraints; exemption from the arbitrary exercise of authority in the performance of a specific action; civil liberty; exemption from unpleasant or onerous conditions; the capacity to exercise choice; free will; a right or the power to engage in certain actions without control or interference. Webster's also defines "speech" as: the faculty or act of speaking; the faculty or act of expressing or describing thoughts, feelings or perceptions by the articulation of words; vocal communication, conversation. Okay, from these definitions, placed in context of "freedom of speech", we kind of get: The condition of being free from restraints during the faculty or act of expressing or describing vocal thoughts; exemption from the arbitrary exercise of authority during vocal communication. You're probably thinking: "Yeah, man! That means I can say WHATEVER I want and nobody can do anything to me or say anything to me or punish me in any way! It did say 'exemption from authority', right?!" Alright, now before people read this and try to go off and use this as an excuse to cuss out their teachers and parents, let me set the record straight: this paper is about what "Freedom of Speech" is all about.
Appropriate use, respecting others freedom to not be harassed (this is a big one!), and what is "appropriate" use of "Freedom of Speech", who REALLY has freedom of speech, and how it is to be used are all topics of debate which swirl about the subject. The Constitution itself states: "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 assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances". Now, it is true that here, the Constitution doesn't exactly set the rules and boundaries concerning this freedom. However, although not stated in black and white, I think we can assume the following as being basic restrictions, and violations of other's rights: Threatening or violent language, direct threats, mockery, insulting in a derogatory, habitual manner.
.. These all seem to be fitting restrictions to this freedom. So why isn't it written down as a law? Well, you read the first amendment above. Okay, so why isn't it an amendment to the amendment? Good question, that I want to try, TRY, mind you, to answer.
An article's in the New York Times reads "A Message of Peace on Two Shirts Touches Off Hostilities at a Mall". Mr. Stephen Downs (60) and his son Roger (31) were in a local mall in Albany, NY when they created a stir for refusing to remove shirts they had just had made. Stephen's shirt read "Peace On Earth" across the front and "Give Peace A Chance" across the back. Roger's read "No War With Iraq" and "Let Inspections Work" While they were in the food court of the mall, eating, they were approached by two security guards and asked to remove the articles. Roger took off his shirt. However, Stephen refused, stating: "It seemed to me my First Amendment rights permitted me to wear the T-shirt." Stephen was then arrested by local authorities and charged with trespassing (Hu, March 5, 2003). All right, hold the phone here.
You read the part of this paper earlier where The Constitution of the United States of America "Congress shall make no law respecting... Freedom of Speech." Yes, I read that part, too. So why, if there is no law writ against these men's shirts, were they asked to remove them, and when one refused, he was thrown in jail? Outrageous? Or was this action justified? Later in the same article, the security guards state that "the individuals were approached because of a complaint that was received and that they were interfering with other shoppers." Also stated was that "Their behavior, coupled with their clothing, to express others' view of world affairs was disruptive of customers (Hu, March 5, 2003)." Have these people been in a mall in any large cities lately? There are much worse displays of peoples' views on world affairs out there than this! Spiky-haired punks with anarchy and anti-war messages, the revival of the 60's hippy "Make love not war" mantra, and these are just a few. Now, don't think I'm being discriminatory. I'm not. But sometimes these things just get ridiculously out of hand. The security guards could have been doing some real good, like busting shoplifters or breaking up a fight, but they chose to harass these two gentlemen about their attire. I don't know about you, but I'm with them!
Okay, maybe the out lash was because of our Commander in Chief's relentless desire to attack Iraq. Yes, I said that. What are they going do, lock me up too?! Pardon me for getting off subject for a moment. Perhaps the security guards have some specific code they are to uphold: "Thou shalt not dispute the Presidents decisions" or something like that. In a case like this, I do believe that their freedom of speech was violated. However, according to the article "Though shopping malls are public gathering places, federal and state courts have ruled that they are privately owned companies that have a legal right to remove people who are disrupting their business" (Hu). So, it's the old "robbing Peter to pay Paul" trick. Taking one persons right into account above another's. All right, so we've found one exception to the rule. Private places (i.e. businesses, homes, etc.) aren't included when you're talking about when we have freedom of speech. Nice to know, isn't it? But wait a minute: Doesn't this go against the whole "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech"? Hmmm, so it should REALLY say "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech UNLESS you are in some one's private residence, business, or the like". Sounds like that's what we've got on our hands.
Now I'm taking my pursuit closer to home. Well, closer to hometown, actually. The headline reads "ACLU says board in violation for suspending gay-straight alliance at Boyd County." The Boyd County Board of Education violated the federal Equal Access Act and the Kentucky Education Reform Act in suspending the Gay-Straight Alliance at Boyd County High School, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court. The suit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of student members of the alliance. The lawsuit charged that the board was allowing some other clubs to meet in spite of a December decision to suspend all clubs, but was not allowing GSA to meet. The ACLU also claims the board usurped the authority of the high school's council, which authorized the club to be formed, when it was suspended. The suit further claims that the district is depriving GSA's members of freedom of speech and equal protection, and that fosters an environment for hostile gays and lesbians, as well as hostility towards them (James, January 23, 2003).
So who's right in this one? Here we see the prototypical "students seeking out rights" fight. My experience is that in high school, you really don't have many rights, if any at all. You can't exactly say anything you want, unless you like detention. You can't come and go as you please, and you can't directly petition the Government for redress of grievances. So what do you have? You have the right to assemble peacefully before and after school. This is what we call clubs and sports. If you want your voice heard, you can't just speak louder; you have to go through one of the many student organizations in order to get to who you are trying to talk to. And, let's face it, in high school, all of the student government organizations are basically a crock. It's all one big popularity contest, and this often leaves the rest of us in the dust, wishing we could do something, but having no medium with which to. This seems to be a violation of freedom of speech, right? Well, not exactly. You aren't technically considered a legal U.S. citizen until you reach the age of 18. This means that for most of your high school career, it's tough bologna and on to the next matter at hand. And with this particular article we get into the gay/lesbian discrimination thing. Simply, they are people, too. They are either citizens or not. That's the way I see it for all intents and purposes of this paper. Okay, so now our new 1st amendment states: "Congress shall make no law prohibiting freedom of speech (and the right to assemble) UNLESS you are in a private residence, business, or the like, and you are not a citizen of the United States (including those who are under the age of 18. If you are under the age of 18, tough cookies!)". Life's just not fair, is it?
So, what about those who take the whole freedom of speech argument too far? I found this article on a site called http://www.netfreedom.org/ . It is titled "Bearing a Grudge". Pardon me again if I get a little angry with this guy. He says: "I recently saw something that made me ill. An old man was walking down the street. He had a long flowing gray beard, and a turban and the whole bit. He must have been from India. I thought, what the hell is he doing here in my country? Why doesn't he stay in his own country? He has his own homeland to live in. I don't want him here. Once, I went into Pep Boys. Behind me I heard two voices talking in some strange garbled language I had never heard before. I turned around and it was two White kids. I think they must have been from Eastern Europe or something. I felt ill. Now even the Whites are strangers. That affected me more than all the rest (anonymous)." Now, let's examine the facts of his statement. I think it's safe to say that he hates all those who are not the average white American. This is the ugly part where we have to deal with racists, anti-Semitics, neo-nazis, anti-gays, you get the picture. Technically, since they are U.S. citizens, the have the right to verbally express themselves in any way they want. This really sucks, huh? So what about when the words become actions, when the freedom turns to hatred? Out of these actions we dig up the dry and putrid bones of hate crimes. I found yet another site that I found of particular interest: www.indianacofcc.org/S625_end_FOS.html . It reads: "S625 will create a federal "anti-hate" bureaucracy, empowering the government to establish its definition of a "hate crime"- one which gives favored status to homosexuals and minority groups. S625 also enhances penalties for "hate crimes" providing up to ten years prison for those who physically harm a member of a protected group (anonymous)." The website above displays the entire article, but I failed to find an author.
In final pursuit of freedom gone too far, I did the unthinkable and went to www.uniqe.com/kkk/index2.html This made me sick. One particular statement, "One good rope could solve so many problems." angers me greatly. And this is a part of their religious doctrine! This, I believe is FOS gone way too far. But they are still citizens of the U.S., so I guess there is nothing we can do about it.
The debate on this topic will probably never be over, and many will suffer, and many will try to pervert the law, all thanks to 45 words originally written in 1791. The preamble says "We the people", not we the white people, black people, gay people, straight people, old or young people. There is no adjective that goes along with this statement, and yet for the last 200 years, we the people have been arguing over these rights. Over who should receive them, who should not, and how they should be upheld. And in doing so, we have neglected the rest of the preamble: "in order to form a more perfect Union, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Webster's defines liberty as the state of being a free person; exemption from subjection to the will of another claiming ownership of the person or service. Posterity means our future. "Freedom for us and for our future". I wonder if this is how they saw the future.
Hu, Winnie. "A Message of Peace on 2 Shirts Touches Off Hostilities at a Mall."
The New York Times. 5 March 2003.
James, Mike. "Lawsuit Claims Discrimination." The Daily Independent. 23 Jan. 2003.