In the United States we have many freedoms that we as citizens possess. Freedom of speech is one of the freedoms we enjoy. But what is the meaning of the word “freedom”, and how free is our speech? The word free, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary means: having the legal and political rights of a citizen. With this in mind, it does not mean that we have the right to do and say as we please.
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” (The Constitution of The United States). The Citizens of the United States misinterpret the phase “Freedom of Speech” to suit their own needs and wants.
In this essay we will discuss how our interpretation of our freedom is only a myth brought on by our selfish ways and thoughts and interpreted according to what we feel it means in the situations that fit best. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Courts to only protect citizens in certain applications and situations and, not protect some companies and corporations nor does it offer to protect citizens of the United States from speaking against the government.
Governmental agencies have twisted the first amendment to fit what the individuals of that particular agencies likes or dislikes, and their view of certain speakers. When the first amendment was written it was meant strictly for congress not to be able to make any laws to hinder our so called “Freedom of Speech”. The first amendment has absolutely no bearing on private of public laws that have gone into effect that limits what can or can’t be said. In the article “Can the FCC Shut Howard Stern Up” by Jeff Jarvis, he states that the FCC enforces rules that unevenly depending on who says a certain phrase.
The FCC condemned Howard Stern for his explanation of sexual colloquialisms, but did not punish others’ references to “giving head” and “finger-banging your boyfriend” (Jarvis). The FCC has had its way with instituting censorship on the radio and television by threatening stations with gigantic fines for not complying with their agenda of what is allowed to be talked about or seen. At one point in time, FCC chairman Powell urged broadcasters –under threat of gigantic fines–to adopt a “voluntary” Code of Good Practices and stated “It would be in your best interest to do so. “Voluntary doesn’t mean voluntary”, more like volun-told (Jarvis).
The censorship doesn’t apply only to the media either. Schools have jumped in on the band-wagon with trying to censor out what they feel is inappropriate for everyone else. In April 2004 at Poway High School in California a student wore a t-shirt expressing his views about homosexuality after the “Day of Silence” organized by a Gay-Straight Alliance club. The day of silence was designed to encourage tolerance.
When the student was asked to remove his shirt or turn it inside out, he refused and was forced to spend the day in a conference room in the schools front office (Taylor, Kelly 2013). How does the school justify that his anti-homosexual shirt was any different than being forced to endure a full day of silence that was ok with the school? The student later sued the school (Harper v. Poway Unified School District). The courts upheld that the school officials are permitted to censor what students are allowed to wear and not allowed to wear. Another student in Ohio banned a shirt that the school officials found questionable.
The shirt in question was a Marilyn Manson rock band t-shirt that depicted a three faced Jesus on the front and the word believe on the back with the letter l-i-e highlighted. The student believed his right to free speech had been violated when the school officials told him to change the shirt, turn it inside out or leave the school and be considered a truant (Schools Win Rights To Ban). The student lost his case against the school, even though the shirt did absolutely nothing to disrupt classes or learning. All it did was cause officials to strut their power to take away free speech and censor the kids.
While some schools are busy trying to ban clothing and other things that it considers inappropriate or offensive, some schools are just plain banning everything whether harmful of not if they feel it is controversial. In an article by Denise Penn titled “Gay/Straight Clun Banned in Orange County, CA H. S. ”, she describes a group of teenagers who tried to start a club dropped off an application in the school office. The principal wanted to approve the Gay/Straight Alliance club, went to the superintendent for guidance and it was taken out of her hands. The school board engaged in several delays and finally held a public forum about the club.
The students endured antigay rhetoric at the forum (Penn). The students faced a panel that took an extremist position. The school officials done away with a program that provided counseling for at-risk students in elementary, middle and high schools, who were having adjustment problems in school. The counseling was provided by interns and cost the school district nothing at all and helped kids. It also took some of the strain off the teachers so they could concentrate on teaching and not on the troubled youths. The council ended the program because it “burdened the school to administer the program”.
The censorship of speech is even taking hold of the political arena. The McCain-Feingold “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” criminalizes political speech in connection with political and even state elections (Roane). The law makes it a felony for a corporation, labor union, or non-profit advocacy group to criticize or even mention a member of congress in broadcast ads within 60 days prior to a federal election. It is now a federal crime for state and local candidates, officeholders and political parties to engage or participate in political speech that attacks or even supports candidates for federal office (Roane).
If it is illegal to voice anyone’s opinion, then the government has taken away a big chunk of our freedom of speech to support or object to any candidate. It basically makes it illegal for anyone to place an ad on the radio or television to support them in any federal election. The law also dictates what money can be used for certain applications and also lessens the chance for newer candidates to be heard, unless they already have a name for themselves in the public arena.
It basically guarantees already elected officials a better chance for re-election in future elections (Roane). The government is closing down on our freedom of speech slowly by instituting their power to censor our speech. Whether it is through the schools, limiting what any students can say or wear, or through banning clubs that school official think could be objectionable, or through the media outlets governed by another governmental agency. Our freedom of speech is being taken away from us a little at a time without us even knowing it.