A Path Towards A Better Society. The Importance of Freedom of Speech Essay Example
As I read the ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ by Martin Luther King did I gather my inspiration and led me to write a paper worth arguing for. So my question lies as should freedom of speech, if ever, be limited? The answer is a simple yes and by the three lenses I am going to dive into; Historical/Political, Social, and Ethical, I will further explain as to why it is a yes. Historical/Political will demonstrate the history of freedom of speech from the Bill of Rights and how the past events such as the Arab Spring is relevant to free speech international. Social lens is where I will look through the current events and controversies involving free speech and how the society is dealing with it today. Lastly, the ethical lens will go over the moral of free speech. All of these lenses will proofread as to why freedom of speech is necessary to be limited.
The first amendment of the Bill of Rights was ratified 1791, the document gives us proof that we have the right to have freedom of speech. The ideas on free speech was developed during the 16th through 18th century by the English writers and philosophers such as John Milton and John Locke. They later deeply influenced Thomas Jefferson and James Madison along with some other key founders who wrote the Bill of Rights as James Madison writing the first 10 amendments. MLK was imprisoned because of protesting for the treatments of blacks in Birmingham where African American people were not as welcomed. This happened in the spring of 1963, the gap between 1791 and 1963 is about 6 decades long, so for the past years that freedom of speech was passed, it was unjust. For example, the Tinker v. Des Moines case; Mary Beth Tinker and John Tinker went to school wearing black armbands to protest the vietnam war and in return of their courageous act, they got suspended.
What they did was an act of advocating for peace, an act in which they had a right for but got the consequences of something inequitable instead. Fortunately, the situation is different in today’s 21st century. The tables are turned now and we are able to say anything though sometimes we should consider limiting ourselves. But while America have this privilege, other countries suffered and died trying to get a voice and speak out their opinions. Countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia lack the freedom of speech especially by having a monarchy country and rules from the book of Quran, the Islamic holy book. Women specifically, are pushed down and maltreated, belittled even. At a very young age, they are forced to get married and give birth to children as soon as they hit puberty without having a say to any of that decision.
Arab Spring was a protest in the Middle East to overthrow the government and the women played a significant role in the protest as they, may it be individual or a group, had the chance to speak up and fight for their rights. The women are not the only highlights of the Arab Spring but also the citizens themselves who are trying to get their message across, with the form of symbolic acts like setting something, someone on fire. A man named Mohamed Bouazizi who lived in Tunisia during that period, set himself on fire outside the local government office as an act of protest because of the fact that the police confiscated his unlicensed vegetable cart and its goods. Even though what he was doing as a citizen who is trying to get by with life was illegal, there was no reason of why the police should mishandle him.
North Korea is another country that lacks freedom of speech even going as far as killing someone or a family who publish things in the internet. Though North Korea recently amended the Socialist Constitution of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2012, it was only an illusion to have that right in a country that is a Communist. Even mourning for the former supreme court of North Korea, Kim Jong II, was forced and if they do not show grief, they are to be punished by the government, though when this news came out, they denied the allegations. Freedom of any form does not exist in North Korea, especially the freedom of speech. All these countries struggled and are still struggling to get the rights they deserve with not having the same privilege like Americans do.
The freedom we have always comes with responsibilities we must take. As much as the first amendment stated that the congress should not prohibit any freedom, it did not say that the society would not have an opinion about any commentaries another person will make. While James Madison was writing the drafts of the Bill of Rights, he often consulted William Blackstone’s, ‘Commentaries’, a jurist, and broaden his idea to a larger picture and had a conclusion that anyone is free to speak their minds out but in result they must face the aftermath, such as criticism from other people. Klu Klux Klan was an example that this situation fits into. The group voiced out their thoughts and got away without any charges against them, but that was KKK v. government, the society on the other hand shunned them and thought that their behavior was repugnant; by burning a cross which can be considered as a symbolic speech, it led them to ostracism. This applies today with everything that we see and do in our everyday life.
Even a movie called ‘Next’, produced in 2007 quoted that “with freedom comes responsibility”. These consequences and responsibilities deals with the people around us. The thing is even if we do say anything we want and speak out our mind, another person or group are not entitled to agree with us. Voltaire’s beliefs, an english philosopher, was portrayed through a quote form the ‘Friends of Voltaire’ written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, also known as S.G. Tallentyre, saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death for your right to say it”. The quote sums up the idea of our rights and the belief that cherished the American value. With the current controversies happening all over the world, hate speech is also brought among the arising questions dealing with free speech.
A video of a survey made in the University of Southern California asked the students around of what they think hate speech is. Hate speech is a speech that is intended to insult, offend, or intimidate a person because of a trait (race, religion and sexual orientation). But is hate speech free speech? Most of the students got a series of questions regarding hate speech and if they think it is considered hate speech by saying a racial slur. Upon watching the video, I decided to do a survey myself and sent it to the students I see five times a week in school. Questions such as if racial slurs is considered hate speech were included. The majority, 89.5%, responded that racial slur is considered as hate speech yet upon getting questioned whether what they say most of the time is hate speech or free speech, 100% answered free speech. With the survey floating around the school, getting to know their responses and a lot of statistics research, I can conclude that hate speech is indeed free speech.
Good news is that the first amendment still protects hate speech from the government censorship unless the speech is causing physical harm. Along with hate speech is symbolic speech. In the Stromberg v. California, the Supreme Court decided that symbolic speech can be seen as a part of freedom of speech, such things are burning a flag and a cross in a person’s yard. Recent event like this took place outside the Representative Maxine Waters, Los Angeles’ office where counter-protesters lit the American Flag on fire. Although it was a very unpatriotic act, it was still protected by the first amendment therefore there was not any charges. Another case was when a group of people during a May Day protest burned a flag in the city park. They got arrested because they burned a flag in a city park of Charlotte.
Burning the American Flag is still protected under the first amendment like the case with Representative Waters but setting a fire in a public park was illegal. Lastly, the double standard speech. Freedom of speech is a double edged sword, the other side might save you but the opposite will kill you. A volume called ‘Equality and Freedom of Expression’, discussed how hate speech deals with double standard as we put it. In this current century double standard is a very big thing that people often not realize of the action that was done. It is not accepted for a caucasian american to say the “N” word to an African American because they would only be called racist yet when the situation is to be turned it is no more called racist but free speech. A student expressed this topic during discussion and was included in the book written in 1991; so for this double standard to have gone through a long way and is still existing is something that we should limit and probably eliminate.
Jussie Smollet, African American and openly gay, known for his famous show, Empire, had a case of defamation that is not covered by the first amendment. Smollet paid two Nigerian brothers to attack him and told the Chicago police of the event that took course during that night. The reinforcements, after finding out that he lied about the incident, charged him for felony only for those charges to be dropped when the State Prosecutor, Joe Magats, believed he was guilty.
Was it morally right when a person went against the law but did not get any charges? Just because we have the right to speak does not mean we should take advantage of it, especially dealing with defamation. Morally, the freedom of speech should be accessible to everybody but when it cause another person’s downfall, they should know how to limit it. The movie Radio Rebel corresponds with free speech in school, specifically. The moral of the story is by removing stereotypes, we could all move towards being an advocate for free speech. At the same time, what she says is considered censored as nothing she says could physically harm somebody but boost them up. It is better to know what to say and limit ourselves on how we say things.
Although freedom of speech is around and do exist some people think it does not, especially students. From the students I have surveyed they said that they do not have free speech because they always get judged with saying something, but judging is a part of our human nature so whatever we do or say we will always be judged, may it be good judgment or bad. Being close minded condense anything another person will say. Limitations legally on the other hand is with the limits they have on words causing danger and fighting words. Considering this in mind, we should watch what we say, making sure that it is free of harmful speech.
If we are to limit our free speech, we can move towards an open society with open mind. Limiting our free speech does not mean not saying anything at all but thinking before speaking instead. But if we are to disregard any limitations of our free speech, more chaos will spread and will be hard to open up in our society. Having the right to speak sometimes set our minds to stand our ground and only think of our own ideas and closing our minds to the others thoughts and opinions. Moving towards limiting free speech is a safer and a much more peaceful society to live in.
Freedom of speech is the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom. Free speech is important to all because without free speech it could lead to restrictions on everybody. And while free speech is important and a privilege to have we have to consider what type of speech we use and how we use it. Sometimes we just blurt out the words we are not supposed to say leading that to chaos. Any words we decide to say will always be disputed with the public. With all the events that happened and are still happening, it is necessary to limit our freedom of speech. Words are very powerful and a dangerous thing we have. Free speech is nice and all of that jazz but we should learn how to limit it. It will protect us and make us live in a morally right world. With our free speech being limited, we can work towards a less judgemental world with embracing arms to welcome us.