Free Speech: You Either Have It or You Don't

With the changing attitudes inherent in a free society, standards of taste, societal norms, and what is deemed “acceptable” often change over time, but our inalienable right to free speech does not. In modern times, there are many who would like to place restrictions on what is “allowed” within the realm of free speech. For instance, racist speech is considered by some to be of little value other than to cause mental suffering of a particular class of people, and therefore should not be allowed, even under the First Amendment guarantee of the right to free speech. All speech (other than the kind that can cause harm, like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre or planning murders, etc.) should be absolutely protected and nothing as trivial as personal distaste, hurt feelings, or the current mood of society should ever be allowed to trump the personal liberty of an American exercising his or her right to free speech. In fact, the entire point of freedom of speech is that citizens with differing opinions or ideas are allowed to express them simply because they are free members of a free society, regardless of what the content of that speech may be. Every American, realizing their right to free speech is God-given, inalienable, and antecedent to governmental or societal influence, should absolutely oppose any attempts, whatsoever, to abridge that freedom, both for themselves and others, regardless of the content of that speech.

The actual text of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or protecting 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” (Citizens Rule Book 49-50). Brilliant in its straightforward simplicity, the First Amendment allows no abridgement to the freedom of speech. It does not say freedom of speech exists “unless it hurts an individual’s feelings”, or “unless it is distasteful to the standards of the day”, or “unless a person really, really doesn’t like what is being said”. It says freedom of speech shall not be abridged. Chief Justice Earl Warren put it succinctly when he said concerning the Bill of Rights that they had “become the sacred rights of the American people without which we would have had a form of free government but not the substance of our freedom” (quoted in Schwartz 193). Because “… the Bill of Rights concept is almost entirely American in its origins”, disallowing freedom of expression for somebody who is expressing an opinion we do not like or agree with is not only an affront to the personal freedom of that citizen, it is un-Constitutional and, therefore, un-American (Schwartz 197). Lipson describes the sacredness of individual rights as being one of the foundational principles that separates America from the chains of the past, saying:

What were these principles which challenged the old order? They

formed a resounding affirmation of the belief that all individuals have

rights which are antecedent to government and that rebellion is justified

against governments which have infringed those rights. (Lipson 25)

Clearly, the right to freedom of expression was, from the beginning, meant to stand sacrosanct. Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, backs this up when he says that the very “point of the First Amendment is that majority preferences must be expressed in some fashion other than by silencing speech on the basis of its content” (quoted in Netzley 14). If one citizen doesn’t like what another citizen is saying, they have every right to exercise their right of free speech to express opposing ideas, however, “… public sensibility … cannot be protected at the expense of a person’s right to personal expression” (Netzley 15).

John Adams, the Second President of the United States, said that American citizens, “have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe” (Citizens Rule Book 1). In other words, these rights are God-given and inalienable, and no other person, organization, school, assembly, or government has any right whatsoever to curtail, repress, amend, or abridge an American citizen’s right to free speech. The fact that “… the U.S Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statute, to be valid, must be in agreement” has, again and again, been upheld in the U.S. Court system (Citizens Rule Book 7). For instance, Marbury vs. Madison states that “All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void” (Citizens Rule Book 7). Miranda vs. Arizona states that “where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them” (Citizens Rule Book 7). The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as originally intended, were put in place to guarantee that personal freedom and inalienable rights, which include the freedom of speech, could never be diminished. Americans should never give up their God-given rights!

One of the reasons listed in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States for the very writing of the Constitution was to “… secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity” (Citizens Rule Book 32). These bold but simple words make it completely obvious what was intended when the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, that no person or entity could take away the personal liberties of American citizens. Lipson voices his agreement, saying, “Liberty is an individualistic concept, especially when it is interpreted in its negative sense of freedom from restraints” (Lipson 26). People, today, who try to reinterpret the Constitution in order to deny others their God-given rights, are merely trying to muddy the waters that were originally laid down with perfect, pristine clarity by the founding fathers. They come up with Orwellian terms like hate speech or homophobia in order to play upon the emotions and sentimentality of the populace and get them to willingly give up their God-given right to free speech and in so doing reshape American Society to something other than it was originally intended. Steven Schwalm, Senior Analyst at the Family Research Council argues that, “… when society begins censoring according to content, the risk of abuse is too high for a free society to tolerate” (quoted in Netzley 21). Free speech is about every segment of society being able to freely express whatever views they hold, and that is the essence of freedom. There is no such thing as “the right not to be offended”, however, the people who would abridge the right to free speech are quick to use this angle to suppress ideas they do not like and to censor their perceived opposition (Netzley 17). Constitutional law expert Rodney A. Smolla believes, “that personal expression needs protection from majority whims” because “censorship is a natural human instinct. Man”, he says, “who is by nature a political animal, is also by nature a censoring animal” (quoted in Netzley 53). Therefore, he “believes that all rules related to censorship should be unchanging and precise as well as ‘tilted heavily in favor of free expression’” (Netzley 54). In other words, every citizen has the right to freely express ideas while the government is expressly forbid to stifle that free flow of ideas from the citizenry. Meiklejohn expresses this clearly when he says, “In this country of ours, so far as the Constitution is effective, men are free to believe and to advocate or to disbelieve and to argue against, any creed. And the government is unqualifiedly forbidden to restrict that freedom” (Meiklejohn 1-2). So it should be clearly understood that terms such as hate speech and homophobia are tactics used by persons of a certain political bent to suppress free speech on a social level, where no such legal or moral authority exists. However, their right to use such Orwellian tactics is just as protected under their right to free speech as is a member of the Ku Klux Klan practicing his right to free speech. Meiklejohn goes on to elucidate this line of thinking by stating:

We Americans think of ourselves as politically free. We believe

in self-government. If men are to be governed, we say, then that

governing must be done, not by others, but by themselves. So far,

therefore, as our own affairs are concerned, we refuse to submit to

alien control. That refusal, if need be, we will carry to the point of

rebellion, of revolution. And if other men, within the jurisdiction

of our laws, are denied their right to political freedom, we will, in

the same spirit, rise to their defense. (Meiklejohn 3)

That is America! The individual freedom to think, feel, and express exactly as a person sees fit is what is held as an American ideal! Even when one citizen disagrees with what is being said by another, they will defend to their death the individual right for the other person to say it. That is the substance of freedom!

The winds of change will always bring different ideas and moods to the forefront of popular thought, just as people live and die. Fortunately, in America, the Founding Fathers had the wisdom and foresight to include the Bill of Rights into the framing of the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution. These rights are antecedent to the power of government, God-given and inalienable. As the national mood fluctuates, people will use all manner of manipulative and draconic tactics to attempt to silence opinions they disagree with, but this is distinctly un-American. Fellow Americans are much better served to respect the individual liberties of everyone, however unpopular their opinions may or may not be, than to work to stifle the opinions of others. That is what makes America great! Without true freedom, America declines.

Works Cited

Citizens Rule Book: A Palladium of Liberty. Austin: Infowars, n.d. Print.

Lipson, Leslie. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science , Vol. 428, The American Revolution Abroad (Nov., 1976), pp. 22-32

Meiklejohn, Alexander. Free speech and its relation to self-government. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 1948.

Netzley, Patricia D. Issues in Censorship. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, Inc., 2000. Print.

Schwartz, Bernard. The Great Rights of Mankind: A History of the American Bill of Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.

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