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The Orion

Protecting our Freedom of Speech

Photo credit: Bobbie Rae Jones

The First Amendment in the American Constitution protects citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, a protection that was revolutionary and has made the U.S. a nation unlike any other. We can express almost anything we want to through almost any medium, which is punishable in many other countries.

However, our own right has an asterisk, as many politicians and media gatekeepers use their power to keep peaceful citizens from expressing themselves. Americans live their lives happily and comfortably around their natural freedoms, so it is important that we continue to protect the right to peacefully express ourselves from all authorities.

Freedom of speech allows people to communicate wrongdoings of government, and has helped highlight and attack injustice from the government throughout American history.

This right suffers when Donald Trump kicks out peaceful, hijab-wearing Muslim attendees of his rallies. Or when anti-homosexual organizations scare people away from events, like the Westboro Baptist Church‘s protests on veterans’ funerals.

When any demographic of people are not allowed to safely express themselves in a public event, then we are not doing enough to protect the rights of everyone.

If any specific demographic is targeted, it shows that any demographic can be next. Also, if injustices like these continue, then those that attack citizens’ rights gain more power and will continue to harm American rights.

Therefore it is everyone’s responsibility to communicate atrocities like these and prevent these types of attacks. These occurrences are harmful PR to the reputations of these organizations, so people must become aware and stand up to them. Uniting and raising awareness of these trespasses will help people combat the reputations of anyone who wants to override Americans’ rights.

National restrictions on mediums of entertainment and information prevent people from using what is called “mature content”: curse words, sexual content, drug/alcohol use, etc. These are all things that many people encounter in some form on a regular basis though, and are not considered taboo.

However, entertainment pieces receive more mature ratings requiring audiences to be certain ages, and articles or news can’t earn mainstream or primary consideration when containing matters like these.

It’s important to consider that making these subjects taboo can be harmful by giving them more power than they deserve. Media can and should change this stigma by not censoring this material or by allowing artists and writers to deliver their creative subject matter, “mature” or not.

This will only happen after the government realizes this paradox and allows these mediums and creators to have more leeway for expression. I don’t think the Founding Fathers wanted us to worry so much about these things when they wrote this right in our Constitution. It may take people realizing the value of speech and expression before they allow absolute expression.

Certain byproducts of speech and expression like libel and plagiarism that have no benefit to people can’t be permitted. In these instances, people need to communicate these fallacies so communities can fight bad behavior like this and those who hurt others’ reputations with these tactics.

Since all speech is protected, the purity of this right is maintained when people who lie or steal others’ words are punished through lost credibility. This is a good thing that many publications, schools and courts uphold through severe punishments. By promoting ethical use of speech and expression, we can set a good model for future men and women who will lead people’s opinions.

This right was a new development when it was written for America. The Founding Fathers knew it would protect important parts of living safely and independently.

With figures of such power and influence today, it’s as important as ever to make sure we use our expressive abilities to the height of their potential. Whether affluent companies, legal restrictions, or even government figures attempt to step on your rights, take the initiative to do the American thing and stand with fellow citizens to fight for your rights.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected].

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    Timothy Phelps // Feb 7, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Your examples of Trump and the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate that you don’t understand the very law you’re writing about. The 1st Amendment protects against the government infringement on your rights to speak. You’re advocating the very thing the 1st Amendment prohibits!

    If you don’t like Trump (who presently holds zero government authority) speaking against someone you want to defend … then defend with more speech; not with silencing his speech! If you don’t like the Bible words of WBC to be seen ON A PUBLIC STREET OUTSIDE of a funeral, put the words you want out there too … don’t silence their right to engage in public discourse on the public streets!

    Your argument proves the need to do the exact opposite from those actions for which you call. You are no freedom-loving American.