First Amendment Short Essay

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

George Orwell

Adopted in 1791, the First Amendment, states that “Congress shall make no law 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.” (Pilon, p. 13) The freedom of speech documented in the First Amendment is not only a constitutional protection, but also an inevitable part of democratic government and independence, which are essential values in our society. “Censorship,” according to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is an almost irresistible impulse when you know you are right” (Sunstein, p. 25). That is why the American citizen’s right to free speech is should be held as the highest virtue and any censorship of freedom of speech should not be allowed, but only respected.

Freedom of speech is essential part of democratic government, because the only way truth can emerge is when there is an open competition of ideas. However, there is a strong support of censorship when people start mentioning extremely offensive opinions. Should the freedom of speech be limited in this case? The answer is “No”. “If liberty means anything at all,” writes George Orwell, “it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” (Cox, p. 36) If we want to enjoy the freedom fully, the full protection should be given to the freedom of speech; there are no compromises about it.

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Freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment is not just a right, which can be declared or abolished. According to the “liberty theory”, proposed by some legal scholars, freedom of speech is an essential part of the liberty of every person, who pursues an individual self-determination and self-realization (Cox, 1981). Thus, freedom of speech is also a part more global right to freedom of personal development and self-expression.

Another theoretical ground to support the freedom of speech is called “tolerance theory”. It holds that the ability to teach and promote tolerance is one of the most important assets of freedom of speech (Cox, 1981). From this perspective, freedom of speech itself excludes any type of intolerance, which sometimes appears in a threatening form (religious intolerance, racial intolerance. The “tolerance theory” implies self-restraint, which is the only appropriate response to any ideas, even those that we may personally dislike or hate. The “tolerance theory” provides a broader context for exercising tolerance in a conflict-ridden democratic society.

In legal practice there are certain restrictions on freedom of speech imposed by the Supreme Court. They define a few categories of speech, which are considered to be not fully protected by the First Amendment. These categories include defamation, advocacy of imminent illegal conduct, obscenity and fraudulent misrepresentation (Farber, 1998). However, if the speech doesn’t fall within one of these categories, there are no grounds for the government to argue that freedom of speech should be restricted because of its harmful content.

One of the common bases for partial censorship is proof that the freedom of speech causes imminent illegal action. The Supreme Court has already drawn a careful line between general abstract theories and political dissent on one hand and particular illegal acts incitement on the other. This line is drawn by definition of “clear and present danger” test (Farber, 1998). The government cannot sue the speech on the basis of its tendency or possibility illegal conduct incitement. Before any speech is punished on the grounds of incitement, there is an obligatory three-part criterion that should be met. First, the speech must directly incite lawless action. Second, the context of speech must imply imminent breaking of the law, rather than call for illegal conduct at some indefinite future time. At last, there should be a strong intention to produce such conduct(Farber, 1998).

Such “clear and present danger” test determines the level of probability of threat imposed by the speech in question. However, the actual evil, which the government tries to prevent by outlawing the advocacy, does not outweigh the harm of outlawing the free speech. Only when the imposed danger becomes evident, the freedom of speech may be questioned. But we must be aware that the price for preventing several cases of the openly declared illegal conduct may be paid by restriction of one of the most essential rights that constitute freedom for the entire nation.

For the wellbeing and public safety the Supreme Court has imposed certain regulations on the freedom of speech not because of its content, but because of the time, place and manner the speech is being expressed (Farber, 1998). However, these rules do not limit the actual freedom of speech and are not even upheld, if there is no public need for this.

However, when it comes to the content-neutral regulation, it raises many controversial issues. The content-neutral regulation requires a very careful distinction and therefore may sometimes be misinterpreted. There is a raising concern that such regulation may weaken people’s right to participate, especially if the government puts too many restrictions on how the ideas should be voiced.

Thus, by analyzing the current issues concerning the First Amendment right to free speech in the United States, I wanted to show the perspective of outlawing this right and the negative aspects that such outlawing may involve. Freedom of speech has served a crucial role for the right to dissent and for the entire principle of democracy in our society. This law was developed during the course of American history and only after numerous struggles it was achieved. The evolution of this law is still in progress, however, the limitation of the basic right to free speech may as well limit our freedom and democracy, therefore should be respected and protected.

References:

Cox, A. Freedom of Expression. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981.

Farber, D. The First Amendment. NY: Foundation Press, 1998.

Pilon, Roger. (Preface) The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Cato Institute, 2000.

Sunstein, C. Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech. NY: Free Press, 1993.

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A Guide to the First Amendment

The First Amendment, sometimes called Amendment 1, is the first amendment to the United States Constitution and is also one out of ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment makes it illegal to make a law that establishes a religion, stops the freedom of speech, stops people from practicing their religion, stops the press from printing what they want, and stops people from exercising their right to assemble peacefully or demonstrating against the government.

Text of the First Amendment

The text of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is the following:

” 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.”

What Does the First Amendment Mean?

There are many key phrases in the first Amendment. Here are some explanations on what exactly they mean.

Freedom of religion: The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prevents the government from setting up or establishing an official religion of the country. American Citizens have the freedom to attend a church, mosque, synagogue, temple, or other house of worship of their choice. They can also choose to not be involved in any religion as well. Because of the First Amendment, we can practice our religion however we want to. 

Freedom of speech: The First Amendment of the United States Constitution stops the government from making any laws that may stop us from saying what we feel or think. The American people have the right to share their opinions with other people or criticize the government.

Freedom of the press: Freedom of the press means we have the right to get information from many different sources of information. The government does not have the power to control what is broadcasted on radio or TV, what is printed in books or newspapers, or what is offered online. American citizens can request time on TV to respond to any views that they disagree with. They can also write letters to newspapers, which might be printed for others readers to see. Americans can also pass out leaflets that state their opinions. They may also their own online web pages that have their opinions.

Freedom of assembly: American citizens have the right to come together in private and public gatherings. Citizens can join groups for religious, social, recreational, or political reasons. By organizing in order to act on a common idea and accomplish a common goal, American citizens can more easily spread their ideas to others.

Right to petition:  The right to petition the government means that American citizens can ask for adjustments or changes in the government. Citizens can do this by collecting signatures for petitions and sending them to elected representatives. They can also call, e-mail, or write to their elected representatives as well. Another way they can petition the government is by creating support groups that try to cause change by lobbying the government.

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