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The Amendment

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The Amendment Essay, Research Paper

No other democratic society in the world permits personal freedoms to

the degree of the United States of America. Within the last sixty years,

American courts, especially the Supreme Court, have developed a set of

legal doctrines that thoroughly protect all forms of the freedom of

expression. When it comes to evaluating the degree to which we take

advantage of the opportunity to express our opinions, some members of

society may be guilty of violating the bounds of the First Amendment by

publicly offending others through obscenity or racism. Americans have

developed a distinct disposition toward the freedom of expression

throughout history.

The First Amendment clearly voices a great American respect toward the

freedom of religion. It also prevents the government from “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.”

Since the early history of our country, the protection of basic freedoms

has been of the utmost importance to Americans.

In Langston Hughes’ poem, “Freedom,” he emphasizes the struggle to

enjoy the freedoms that he knows are rightfully his. He reflects the

American desire for freedom now when he says, “I do not need my freedom

when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.” He recognizes the need

for freedom in its entirety without compromise or fear.

I think Langston Hughes captures the essence of the American

immigrants’ quest for freedom in his poem, “Freedom’s Plow.” He accurately

describes American’s as arriving with nothing but dreams and building

America with the hopes of finding greater freedom or freedom for the first

time. He depicts how people of all backgrounds worked together for one

cause: freedom.

I selected Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a fictitious example of

the evils of censorship in a world that is becoming illiterate. In this

book, the government convinces the public that book reading is evil because

it spreads harmful opinions and agitates people against the government.

The vast majority of people accept this censorship of expression without

question and are content to see and hear only the government’s propaganda.

I found this disturbing yet realistic. Bradbury’s hidden opposition to

this form of censorship was apparent throughout the book and finally

prevailed in the end when his main character rebelled against the practice

of burning books.

Among the many forms of protests are pickets, strikes, public speeches

and rallies. Recently in New Jersey, more than a thousand community

activists rallied to draft a “human” budget that puts the needs of the poor

and handicapped as a top priority. Rallies are an effective means for

people to use their freedoms effectively to bring about change from the

government.

Freedom of speech is constantly being challenged as is evidenced in a

recent court case where a Gloucester County school district censored

reviews of two R-rated movies from a school newspaper. Superior Court

Judge, Robert E. Francis ruled that the student’s rights were violated

under the state Constitution. I feel this is a major break through for

students’ rights because it limits editorial control of school newspapers

by educators and allows students to print what they feel is important.

A newly proposed bill (A-557) would prevent school officials from

controlling the content of student publications. Critics of the bill feel

that “student journalists may be too young to understand the

responsibilities that come with free speech.” This is a valid point;

however, it would provide an excellent opportunity for them to learn about

their First Amendment rights that guarantees free speech and freedom of the

press.

In his commencement address to Monmouth College graduates, Professor

Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School defended the broad right to free

speech. He stated, “My message to you graduates is to assert your rights,

to use them responsibly and boldly, to oppose racism, to oppose sexism, to

oppose homophobia and bigotry of all kinds and to do so within the spirit

of the First Amendment, not by creating an exception to it.” I agree that

one should feel free to speak openly as long as it does not directly or

indirectly lead to the harm of others.

One of the more controversial issues was the recent 2 Live Crew

incident involving obscenity in rap music. Their record, “As Nasty as They

Wanna Be,” was ruled obscene in federal court. They were acquitted of the

charges and quickly became a free speech martyr. Although many stores

pulled the album, over two million copies sold as a result of the incident.

I feel that in this case the principles of free speech have been abused

because young children can purchase and listen to this obscene music.

The American flag, symbol of our country’s history and patriotism, has

also become a topic of controversy. The controversy was over the right to

burn the flag without punishment. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan

offered the response that “if there is a bedrock principle underlying the

First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression

of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or

disagreeable.” Burning the flag is considered a form of symbolic speech

and therefore is protected under the First Amendment. As in the 2 Live

Crew case, I feel that we are protecting the wrong people in this case.

The minority is given precedence at the sacrifice of the majority.

The book, American Voices, is a collection of essays on the freedom of

speech and censorship. I chose to put this collection of essays into my

book because they represent the strong central theme of freedom of

expression as the cornerstone of American government, culture and life.

Each essay strongly defends a case for free commercial speech. Each was

generally in favor of fewer limitations on freedom of expression.

The American voice on freedom has been shaped throughout the course of

history by the initial democratic notions of the immigrants to the same

desire for greater freedom that we have today. The freedom of speech has

constantly been challenged and will continue to be challenged in the

future. It is important that we learn from the precedented cases of the

past of our constitutionally protected rights so that in the future

authority will not violate our freedoms or oppress our liberty.

Ever since colonial times, the protection of personal freedoms in the

United States has been significantly important. Even in the early stages

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