Freedom of Speech in America

Mon, Dec 23, 2013

General Legal Issues

Some rights reserved by prusakolepFreedom of speech is talked about a lot in America. Right now Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, is getting a lot of the freedom of speech attention. Although technically his controversy is not a 1st Amendment issue since a governmental unit is not using compulsion to limit his speech, the controversy still stirs debate about the issue.  In light of this, we should ask — what does freedom of speech mean in America?

First off, freedom of speech is discussed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It was not a new idea in the world, but was something the founding fathers found important.  In fact, it is likely one of our most fundamental of rights and a bulwark to our freedom, since the silence of views disfavored by the powerful and the elite is a common tactic of oppressors.  Of course, like many other aspects of the Constitution, it is something that is interpreted in many different ways.

The idea of what freedom of speech means has also changed over time. In addition to the traditional idea of freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has decided many other actions are considered protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution’s freedom of speech wording. Some things on this list include campaign contributions, the right not to speak, and symbolic actions. This link to uscourts.gov details the other items on the list, as well as provides the Supreme Court case that decided them. In addition, this link discusses what the Supreme Court has decided is not free speech, which thankfully is limited. It includes many things, like speech “To incite actions that would harm others.”

And of course, freedom of speech may be written in the Constitution but it doesn’t mean that all will appreciate everyone’s free speech. Thus, backlash- like the Phil Robertson issue created- occurs. It is important to remember that the supporters and the ones offended have an equal ability to use their own freedom of speech to discuss an issue. And therein lays the complications that the Constitution frequently creates.  Furthermore, we should always remember that the purpose of this right is not to protect popular speech (since it needs no protection), but rather to protect unpopular speech, including speech that is offensive, immoral, heretical and blasphemous.  Our friends in Europe have no such equivalent right, and that continent is seeing the brewing of a maelstrom where speech rights are succumbing to pressures from forces that seek to prevent “offensive” or “harmful” language, and others that seek to impose blasphemy laws on the public to limit critical discourse.

America stands unique in the world as a place where offensive speech is still protected, and Americans should always stand together to protect the right to speak freely without fear of governmental reprisal, even (and especially) if the message is disagreeable.

Attorney Christopher D. Smith is a Lakewood Ranch, Florida attorney with SmithLaw Attorneys. He concentrates in bankruptcy, civil litigation, probate, and elder exploitation cases in the Sarasota and Bradenton area. Call 941-907-4774 to learn more and to ask about our free consultations.

Image: Some rights reserved by prusakolep

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