How free are we to speak?

by Melanie Mortensen

The definition of freedom of speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. The First Amendment states:”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.”

Freedom of speech includes the right not to speak (specifically the right not to salute the flag), to allow students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war, to allow students the right to not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, to use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages, to contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns, to advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions), and to engage in symbolic speech (for example: burning the flag in protest).

Freedom of speech does not include the right to incite actions that would harm others. An example of this would be someone falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater or saying “bomb” on an airplane. It does not include the right to make or distribute obscene material, to burn draft cards as an anti-war protest, to permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration, to allow students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event, or to allow students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.

As you can see, there are certain extents to everything.

Do Americans really have freedom of speech?

There are parts of our culture where we really do not have freedom of speech. For example, a sports coach can get kicked out of a game for using profane language, and anyone can be silenced from the things they say. All over social media you can find people saying things like “Why do celebrities think we care about their political opinions when we hire them to act, sing, write, etc for us?” or “Why do celebrities think we care about their political opinions as they are only actors and don’t live as normal of a life as most Americans?”

An article released on DailyCaller.com was literally titled “Good News, America! Nobody Cares What Celebrities Think.” But the real question is why shouldn’t they be able to state their opinion? They, as Americans, have the same rights as everyone else. Just because they are famous for one reason or another doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to talk about politics as much as any other American. The political opinions of celebrities hold the same amount of importance as everyone else; no one opinion should be more important than another.

Students are forced to change their clothing if it doesn’t meet dress code standards, or if it displays profanity, and others get in trouble for speaking their mind with simple words. A student at a Tennessee high school got in trouble, and kicked out of class, for saying “bless you” as good manners when someone sneezed. After she was kicked out of class and sent to the principal’s office, she got sent to In-School Suspension (ISS). In 2010, schools around the country banned bracelets that read “I heart boobies,” even though the bracelets were supporting the nonprofit Keep a Breast Foundation. Five year old Cooper Barton was told to turn his University of Michigan shirt inside-out because it violated school rules. The dress code in Oklahoma City’s public schools said students may only wear shirts from Oklahoma colleges and universities. In 2011, one sixth grader in Nebraska was told she couldn’t wear her rosary clothing (clothing expressing faith) to school because it violated the school’s dress code.

You should not be forced to change your clothing because someone doesn’t like it, that is your freedom being taken away.

So, do Americans really have freedom of speech? It seems to be that the freedom aligns with restrictions of larger organizations, regardless of the individual’s personal standards or beliefs. Freedom of speech exists, but is anything really free? That is for Americans to decide themselves.

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