Free Speech

America, land of free speech and misunderstanding the Constitution.Lots of people like to wave around their freedom of speech, a right guaranteed by the first amendment of the United States Constitution gives to every American citizen. However, very few people seem to know what freedom of speech according to the Bill of Rights actually is.

The first amendment of the Consitution reads as such:

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.

What this statement boils down to is that the United States government is prohibited from passing a law that takes away someone’s right to speak freely or criticize the government. It means you can walk down the street and say, “Hey, our president is a moron,” without the police grabbing you and beating you senseless. It means you can share your opinion with anyone who cares to listen and not have to fear redress from the government (unless you do something like shout “Fire!” in a theater that is not actually on fire; the Supreme Court has ruled that such acts are a violation of public safety).

The problem most people seem to have in understanding the freedom of speech is that they try to apply it to everybody and everything, when it is really solely meant as a means of regulating the government. If someone disagrees with your politics and argues about them with you, they are not infringing on your freedom of speech. If a message board moderator deletes a post of yours, that is not a violation of your rights. If you use a racial slur and get punched for it, you can’t defend yourself by holding up the bill of rights.

The first amendment is not there to give every moron with an opinion a podium. It’s there to ensure that the government will not stop you from speaking your mind. When a television network edits a violent movie, it’s not violating this law; it’s instead catering to its advertisers so the network can continue to make money. If a newspaper fires a journalist for some controversial editorials, that paper is simply trying to ensure that its product will continue to sell. If you try discussing your religion with someone and they tell you to shut up, that’s just because they don’t want to hear it — it’s not a violation of your rights according to the United States constitution. If WordPress decides to shut down my web page, it’s a matter of them not wanting to host my diatribes, not some sort of horrific government censorship.

The United States Constitution is also something that only applies in the United States. While several other nations have similar rights written into their core government, it is not universal. If you go to another country where free speech isn’t protected, it is not your right to say whatever comes into your mind. You can argue otherwise from a moral perspective, but from a legal perspective you’d be dead wrong.

Most people reading this page probably already know these things. But many people seem to completely misunderstand what the freedom of speech is. It doesn’t mean people have to listen to you or even give you the time of day. It doesn’t mean that what you have to say is intelligent, valid, or worth paying attention to. It doesn’t say that a radio station can’t edit rap lyrics or that a TV network is obligated to show the South Park movie completely uncensored. It is just a safeguard to keep the government from overstepping its bounds. Nothing more.

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