The freedom of speech remains as one of the fundamental elements of the foundation of the United States of America. Ultimately, it has protections under the American Constitution in line with the First Amendment. It reads, 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 (Legal Information Institute).
In recent times, due to increased instances of hate speech and other negative elements, there has also been an increase in the debate on the issue regarding freedom of speech. This includes the idea of whether it is absolute and should speech have restrictions. This polarizing debate goes against those who feel that the freedom of speech is an absolute, which protects every citizens right to speak freely without any government interference or censure, against those that feel that freedom of speech is a right. However, there is the controversial idea that the need to have legal limits to discourage vices, such as hate speech and obscenities is missing. In this context, the paper will argue that free speech is an absolute right that should not have limits since this standpoint will be an attack on the spirit of the American Constitution and the right for everyone to express themselves fully without either fear or censure.
The idea of freedom of speech came into the American way of life through the founding fathers who introduced the Bill of Rights and through the First Amendment, which guaranteed the right of every American to speak their minds without fear. While the amendment does not explicitly define what it means by the freedom of speech and what can or cannot be protected, over the years, this role has been provided by the courts. The judicial system in America has provided a number of landmark rulings that have set the tone of the debate on whether the freedom of speech should or should not have limits. The earliest example occurred in the U.S. Supreme Court on March 3, 1919, the case of Schenck versus the United States. Charles Schenck, a general secretary, of the Socialist Party was opposed to the the the military draft.
In retaliation, the socialist sent 15,000 leaflets, that instructed for any man drafted for war to resist. The underlying issue was did this act of espionage violate the First Amendment? The court ruled the Espionage Act was constitutional, freedom of speech was not an absolute right and civil liberties might have limits in times of war, especially when the speech may present some form of danger to the general good. On the other hand, the 1942 Chaplinsky versus New Hampshire saw the Supreme Court uphold that the right to free speech was limited in circumstances where there is the use of words or phrases that may cause injury or cause an immediate breach of the peace (Bill of Rights Institute). A more recent case, which includes the 2004 case of Morse versus Frederick, saw the Supreme Court rule that in some cases, the right to freedom of speech can be limited if its intent goes against an illegality. In this case, a student’s right to hold a banner that read ?Bong Hits 4 Jesus could not be protected. Unfortunately, while it was his right to offer the speech, this right was outweighed by the schools rule that barred encouraging drug use. These court cases provide an insight into the manner in which the judicial system has tried to interpret the First Amendment and, thus, shedding more light on the debate on whether it should have limitations or not.
Free speech should have no limits because placing limits hampers resolution of an issue or an idea through debate. It is important to note that everybody has ideas and opinion that may contradict one another. However, this can vary based on religion, morals and ones values. In some cases, those ideas, thoughts, and opinions may not be politically correct and be widely unpopular. Needless to say, it is important that a person is given the right to express those ideas without any limits to enable them and others to be receptive to new information. It would be very catastrophic if limits forced people to keep their thoughts and feelings inside, no matter how unpopular or wrong they may be to other people. This position occurs because having different opinions and being able to express that without any limits helps to foster debate, which, in many cases, can help to persuade the opposed of either being wrong or show them their ignorance to real facts.
When society encounters an individual or a group that has opinions or thoughts that are offensive and ignorant, it would be better to challenge them to express themselves and give evidence rather than just silence them through enacting limits. When put up for debate, the explanation offered is up for examination, weaknesses, and flaws can be exposed, thus, making people realize why they are wrong. Supporters of limitations may argue that in some instances, it is very clear who is right and who is wrong or it is common knowledge what is offensive and what is not offensive. Therefore, the audience would emphasize there is no need for a debate to rationalize that aspect. However, this argument is very sectarian and encourages the formation of the ?other as well as encouraging narrow-mindedness (see Fig 1). It ignores the value of showing why somebody is wrong through an open and rational debate. Rationally, free speech should have no limits because that position allows good ideas to be expressed and implemented while bad ones can go through a debate and, therefore, be questioned productively.
Free speech already has limits and there is no need to restrict it further as this standpoint will be an attack on the spirit of the Constitution. It is already well known that the Supreme Court has acknowledged that in some circumstances, it may be necessary to put limits to free speech through the interpretation of the First Amendment. This instance occurs in cases that may lead to violence or cause a disturbance to peace. As a result, the Supreme Court holds that there exist special categories under which the First Amendment may not protect freedom of speech in some contexts. These categories of expression are words deemed to be obscene, words deemed to be defamatory, words deemed to be commercial, and words deemed to be fighting words or disruptive expression (O’Brien). Therefore, it is evident that free speech in its nature is already limited since it is logical to accept the fact that in some circumstances, there is no value achieved from some kind of free speech that is outright unacceptable in both legal and social realms.
However, any further limits beyond these accepted restrictions are in bad faith and exhibit an undemocratic attack on the Constitution and the First Amendment, which guarantee every American the right to free speech. Audience that supports the idea of additional limits may argue that this outlook does not offer enough protection, and that it should go beyond these categories and offer limitations that do not allow people to say whatever they want at any given time. Additionally, they argue that these categories of limitations are vague and in most cases, allow people to get away with a lot. For instance, words that are obscene in nature need to be said with threatening language for them to be considered unprotected by the First Amendment. However, this argument appears to be restricted in nature because any further restrictions will make the right to free speech redundant. There would be no protection in speaking and expressing one’s thoughts and ideas. The limitations that are already set in stone were planned out well enough due to past situations, that instilled restraints.
Freedom of speech should not be limited because it has led, and will continue to lead, some of the most groundbreaking social changing movements. It is without a doubt that words are powerful and that they can, in many ways, inspires the human psyche and leads it to various ideas and convictions. In history, there are various examples where words of speech and the freedom to express them have resulted in meaningful changes that have played a part in the growth of humanity. These include the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the more recent #MeToo movement. If this right to freedom of speech had been hampered, Dr. Martin Luther King would not have been able to inspire a generation through his words to raise up peacefully against racial injustices. His words during those times were unpleasant to a majority of the white population and, therefore, if there were any limits to freedom of speech, he would not have achieved what he did. Similarly, not all the women victims in the #MeToo movement would have attained justice if the freedom of speech had limits, which would have prevented them from describing the sexual assaults.
Therefore, freedom of speech is an important tool of social change that should not, in any way, be limited to encourage positive social engagement. Supporters of limitation would argue that free speech in the context of advocating for social change may be abused and misused and, therefore, it is necessary to have limits to ensure that there is the correct use of the right to free speech. However, this argument is flawed in the sense that in many ways, people who are advocating for a positive change are always on the right side of history. Therefore, citizens who are granted this right should use any means necessary to advocate for whatever they believe in through the most effective means, which in this case is the freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech should not have limitations since it functions as one of the fundamental avenues to prevent the occurrence of oppression within society. Primarily, free speech establishes an armistice between diverse factions with opposing viewpoints, histories, principles, philosophies, faiths, and creeds. It allows every member of the society, the authority to uphold his or her perspective openly; hence, no one has the consent to subdue another. Consequently, free speech is an essential tool that provides a voice for the minorities and the burdened. It allows people to attain growth by questioning the establishment, the existing state of affairs, the rule of law, and the governing body. This freedom is necessary for the oppressed as well as those who inspire to challenge their stances and demands the idea of whether it creates an environment for refutation. For this reason, everyone has an equal playing field to oppose and counter various impractical standpoints.
Eventually, free speech provokes an impartial, open, balanced, and sensible discourse on pertinent issues, particularly from those who would otherwise lack the space and opportunity to express themselves regarding the same (O’Leary). Progressively, debate emerging from free speech can be fundamental in presenting gaps in development, hence, allowing room for additional research, sifting of backward concepts, reform, and persuasion from disadvantaged factions. Those who argue against the ability of free speech hinder oppression within the society claim that it presents an extremely huge threat. Their main disagreement with the stance stems from the belief that freedom of speech would only empower the influential faction of society further.
Consequently, this dominant section will merely label any form of resistance from the others as sacrilege, deviation, undermining power, censure, and an affront to the essence of societal living. However, there is a possibility that the influential society would denounce free speech as a form of corruption. Such disapproval of freedom of speech disregards the spirit of the movement. It is irrational to discount it based on the assumption that it may provoke the emergence of rogue individuals within the society. In essence, the benefits of free speech are for oppressive movements outweigh the costs.
Freedom of speech has been a crucial component in the growth and development of the current world as it exists; therefore, implementing limitations would merely curtail and stagnate global progression. Throughout the years, advancements in numerous fields across the globe have only been possible through the constant collaboration and interchange of thoughts and information between people across the continent. From this capacity, numerous groundbreaking inventions that make life easier in comparison to past years are effective. First world countries like those in Europe and the United States, as illustrated below, are ahead of the rest primarily because of the extensive range of discoveries and creations within these nations, which are attributable to the concept of freedom of speech (see Fig 2).
World Economic Forum. Revolutionary discoveries in science and technology, such as cutting-edge transportation and communication infrastructure via electric-powered trains and cellular networks have become a reality due to the resourcefulness that emerges. As an outcome of the unrestricted movement of concepts and the nonexistence of the hindrances in unfamiliar, debatable, far-reaching, and rare thoughts and findings. Besides, all developments in these fields such as the arts are caused by people’s ability to express themselves without obstruction; hence, the existence of contemporary works of literature, entertainment, building and design, among others. All these advancements attest to the fact that freedom of speech serves as the foundation for all growth within the society, and the lack of development within others is dependent on their rules of censorship. Those who contest the standpoint that free speech is essential for growth and development within the society claim that it is not the only element necessary for the same outcome.
For instance, other accompanying components such as cohesion, peace, and stability as the most fundamental preconditions for any advancing nation. They assert that these components precede free speech because it is not the main concern if the others are unavailable and unattainable. This form of reasoning is inaccurate in relation to the necessity of dialogue in the achievement of all the elements presented. To an acceptable degree, cohesion, peace, and stability cannot exist without the foundation of free speech.
Freedom of speech is a crucial component of the basis for a self-governing society. In the contemporary world, free speech is a powerful tool in the sharing of perspectives and the spreading of information to the mass population. Free speech holds such immense power in the modern society that it can either abolish or institute entire civilizations. Presently, platforms such as social media websites are critical in uniting people against the administration; such as, countries with questionable leadership strategies have been victims of a strict system of checks and balances from citizens who engage each other on such sites freely. Naturally, freedom of speech allows citizens to question authority and have different viewpoints. The ability to engage with each other instantaneously without limitations ensures that the administration adheres to the principle of democracy.
Besides, the philosophies contained within such discussions do not disappear due to the absence of suppression; thus, they serve to promote democracy in the long term. In essence, freedom of speech is obligatory not only to promotes such democratic principles but also to ensure the upholding of individual rights to distinct perspectives within the said democracy. Intention and communal discussion form the spirit of democracy. By restricting free speech, the citizens lack the capacity to attain and sustain control since they missed the opportunity to participate in constructive debate for the sake of their countrys autonomy. Those against free speech as a prerequisite of democracy within any given nation claim that the call for self-governance does not justify the necessity for the absence of limitations in freedom of speech. Even though they accept the rationality in the crucial nature of free speech in a democracy, they assert that restrictions are also necessary to regulate disorder and lawlessness within the society, which may arise from political discourse. They echo the notion that controlled freedoms are not equivalent to eliminated ones. This argument is fragile since restrictions on free speech do not necessarily translate to the absence of political chaos. There will always be disagreement on political subjects; hence, limiting speech is not a guarantee for mutual understanding in opinion.
Lastly, freedom of speech is a fundamental human right; meaning, limitations go against this basic provision. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under Article 19, Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Global Freedom of Expression). From this declaration, it is a common logic to recognize that freedom of speech is as necessary to human survival as is any other basic right. It is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that they uphold this right as equivalent to the right to life, for instance. Furthermore, this proclamation raises the question regarding the essence of a right: it is revolutionary to impose constraints on elements that are integrally rights. In other words, freedom of speech is so essential to life that people fight to implement it throughout their lives and are willing to die defending it. The capacity to express oneself in communal settings without anxiety in the essence of independent living.
Consequently, effecting restrictions merely creates room for suppression and oppression, which are prone to enabling social biases. Those who disprove this standpoint claim that some level of censorship within the society is tolerable since it curtails the possibility of chaos due to over contribution from members of the society. However, this perspective is inaccurate since it overlooks the manner in which gagging people fuels unfamiliarity, misrepresentation, and the absence of up-to-date resolutions. In essence, freedom of speech is as imperative to sanity as other basic human rights.
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