The First Amendment as the Standard Bearer Part 1 in 4 part series: What is free speech?14 min read
The First Amendment as the Standard Bearer
As a writer, I am dependent upon the freedom to convey my ideas, and I enjoy dialogue from those who disagree with me. So I’ve come to appreciate the depth and brevity of the American idea of free speech found in the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting 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.
Our religious beliefs, superstitions, doctrines, traditions, or lack thereof are all forms of free speech under the US Constitution. So whether you believe in God, Allah, Buddha, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you have a right to freely believe and convey that belief. And, in the United States at least, we also have the right to question religious beliefs though not without controversy.
If it were not for the printing press, some of the greatest revolutions would not have taken place. The printing press made religious freedom possible during the Protestant Reformation, and allowed information to spread across the colonies during the War for Independence. It’s been the safe haven for whistle blowers, and the watchdog (for most of its history anyway) of government corruption. The press now extends to the Internet which has changed and connected the world in a way not seen since Gutenberg invented his printing press. There does seem to be some question and doubt about whether modern news media outlets are truly reporting the news in the same spirit as the first amendment and it may have some merit considering the fact that every tv channel can be followed back to a total of 6 or 7 parent companies throughout the whole world.
We usually attribute this one to peaceful protest, and while it is certainly included, it is not limited to protest. Peaceful assembly can also be construed as peaceful associations, or the right to choose whom we do and do not associate with. Of course, the caveat here is the qualifier; peaceful. We’ll get into this more in the next blog on what free speech does not entail.
Petitioning the government
When the idea of free speech spread across the world, this one was left out in many new constitutions, and remains a truly American hallmark. The right to petition and criticize the government is, ideally, what keeps government on its toes. Since our government is (supposed to be) under the law, when we observe actions taken by any public official, it’s our right (duty) to question, call out, and reprimand those governing officials. It’s the Paradox of Public Servitude.
It’s interesting to note that the founders still distinguished between speech and the above the mentioned forms of it. We’ve learned over time that speech is more than the words that come from our mouth and those written on a page. Art, music, video, dance, are all additional forms of accepted speech. Even our choices are an expression of our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. We can speak for and against businesses through our choice to shop or boycott them. We can speak our love for our children by our active involvement or passivity towards them. We can even speak in our silence.
Free speech covers a great deal more than mere words from the mouth or on a piece of paper. Speech is in our actions, beliefs, dreams, and philosophies. Upon reflection, you may realize that speech may include things that you take offense to and would not want in your ideal society. And in fact, it is illegal in the US to make statements that incite violence or prejudicial acts. This is called hate speech, and it still today is hotly contested as being in the realm of free speech or not. So in the my next article, I’ll discuss the Matter of Offense to what end is free speech protected at least in a libertarian society.
Interesting facts about free speech in other countries: (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
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