This essay has a total of 2361 words and 13 pages.
The First Amendment
No other democratic society in the world permits personal freedoms to
the degree of the United States of America. Within the last sixty years,
American courts, especially the Supreme Court, have developed a set of
legal doctrines that thoroughly protect all forms of the freedom of
expression. When it comes to evaluating the degree to which we take
advantage of the opportunity to express our opinions, some members of
society may be guilty of violating the bounds of the First Amendment by
publicly offending others through obscenity or racism. Americans have
developed a distinct disposition toward the freedom of expression
The First Amendment clearly voices a great American respect toward the
freedom of religion. It also prevents the government from "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."
Since the early history of our country, the protection of basic freedoms
has been of the utmost importance to Americans.
In Langston Hughes' poem, "Freedom," he emphasizes the struggle to
enjoy the freedoms that he knows are rightfully his. He reflects the
American desire for freedom now when he says, "I do not need my freedom
when I'm dead. I cannot live on tomorrow's bread." He recognizes the need
for freedom in its entirety without compromise or fear.
I think Langston Hughes captures the essence of the American
immigrants' quest for freedom in his poem, "Freedom's Plow." He accurately
describes American's as arriving with nothing but dreams and building
America with the hopes of finding greater freedom or freedom for the first
time. He depicts how people of all backgrounds worked together for one
I selected Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 as a fictitious example of
the evils of censorship in a world that is becoming illiterate. In this
book, the government convinces the public that book reading is evil because
it spreads harmful opinions and agitates people against the government.
The vast majority of people accept this censorship of expression without
question and are content to see and hear only the government's propaganda.
I found this disturbing yet realistic. Bradbury's hidden opposition to
this form of censorship was apparent throughout the book and finally
prevailed in the end when his main character rebelled against the practice
of burning books.
Among the many forms of protests are pickets, strikes, public speeches
and rallies. Recently in New Jersey, more than a thousand community
activists rallied to draft a "human" budget that puts the needs of the poor
and handicapped as a top priority. Rallies are an effective means for
people to use their freedoms effectively to bring about change from the
Freedom of speech is constantly being challenged as is evidenced in a
recent court case where a Gloucester County school district censored
reviews of two R-rated movies from a school newspaper. Superior Court
Judge, Robert E. Francis ruled that the student's rights were violated
under the state Constitution. I feel this is a major break through for
students' rights because it limits editorial control of school newspapers
by educators and allows students to print what they feel is important.
A newly proposed bill (A-557) would prevent school officials from
controlling the content of student publications. Critics of the bill feel
that "student journalists may be too young to understand the
responsibilities that come with free speech." This is a valid point;
however, it would provide an excellent opportunity for them to learn about
their First Amendment rights that guarantees free speech and freedom of the
In his commencement address to Monmouth College graduates, Professor
Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School defended the broad right to free
speech. He stated, "My message to you graduates is to assert your rights,
to use them responsibly and boldly, to oppose racism, to oppose sexism, to
oppose homophobia and bigotry of all kinds and to do so within the spirit
of the First Amendment, not by creating an exception to it." I agree that
one should feel free to speak openly as long as it does not directly or
indirectly lead to the harm of others.
One of the more controversial issues was the recent 2 Live Crew
incident involving obscenity in rap music. Their record, "As Nasty as They
Wanna Be," was ruled obscene in federal court. They were acquitted of the
charges and quickly became a free speech martyr. Although many stores
pulled the album, over two million copies sold as a result of the incident.
I feel that in this case the principles of free speech have been abused
because young children can purchase and listen to this obscene music.
The American flag, symbol of our country's history and patriotism, has
also become a topic of controversy. The controversy was over the right to
burn the flag without punishment. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan
offered the response that "if there is a bedrock principle underlying the
First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression
of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or
disagreeable." Burning the flag is considered a form of symbolic speech
and therefore is protected under the First Amendment. As in the 2 Live
Crew case, I feel that we are protecting the wrong people in this case.
The minority is given precedence at the sacrifice of the majority.
The book, American Voices, is a collection of essays on the freedom of
speech and censorship. I chose to put this collection of essays into my
book because they represent the strong central theme of freedom of
expression as the cornerstone of American government, culture and life.
Each essay strongly defends a case for free commercial speech. Each was
generally in favor of fewer limitations on freedom of expression.
The American voice on freedom has been shaped throughout the course of
history by the initial democratic notions of the immigrants to the same
desire for greater freedom that we have today. The freedom of speech has
constantly been challenged and will continue to be challenged in the
future. It is important that we learn from the precedented cases of the
past of our constitutionally protected rights so that in the future
authority will not violate our freedoms or oppress our liberty.
Ever since colonial times, the protection of personal freedoms in the
United States has been significantly important. Even in the early stages
of American history there was an urge to put legally protected freedoms
into written government documents. The result was the drafting of the first
ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, by James Madison.
The applications of the personal freedoms described in the Bill of Rights,
particularly the freedom of speech, have been challenged repeatedly in
American courts of law and elsewhere. These incidents and challenges of
authority reflect the defensive American attitude toward the ever important
freedom of expression and the growing significance of personal rights
throughout American history.
In Colonial America, members of diverse nationalities had opposing
views on government, religion, and other subjects of interest. Serious
confrontations were prevented because of the vast lands that separated
groups of varying opinions. A person could easily settle in with other
like believers and be untouched by the prejudices and oppression of others.
For this reason, Unitarians avoided Anglican or Puritan communities.
Quakers and Anabaptists were confined to Pennsylvania and Rhode Island
while Catholics were mainl
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