Espionage Act and the First Amendment Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 February 2017

Espionage Act and the First Amendment

The Espionage Act of 1917 is a US federal law which was passed after the First World War under the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. The law puts it a crime against the state to leak information to outsiders under the intention of creating hindrances to the operation of the US armed forces. This was passed for the fear that oppositions at the middle of the war shall constitute a direct peril to the security of American victory.

This crime shall render a maximum of twenty years in prison plus the fine to those who will be suspected to attempt “insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States. ” (US Espionage Act) However, Espionage Act was extended later on by the Sedition Act of 1918. This law made it illegal to speak anything against the government (US Code Collection).

Part of this law forbids individuals from “willfully communicating” to any person, who in return is also held prohibited to receive certain information that the government deems to post threat to the country’s national security (Vladeck 5). The US Espionage and Sedition Acts were utilized in some prosecutions although these were considered unconstitutional and violations of human rights. Albeit oppositions and cancellation of some parts of this law, until the present time, major portions of the Espionage Act is still part of the current United States law.

On the other hand, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids federal legislatures that shall hinder free exercise of religion, laws that shall violate freedom of speech, infringe freedom of the press, limit right to peaceful assembly and limit the rights of the people to address the government with regards to their grievances (Collins). First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a part of the United States Bill of Rights. In an instant look, the connection between the Espionage Act and the First Amendment, would seem to be the case that the first violates the latter.

Espionage Act violates freedom of speech of the Americans that is well constituted in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. ” Though in contrast to the supposed protective purpose of the First Amendment, its constitution was efficiently manipulated by the Supreme Court in such a way that restriction for freedom of speech is permitted extensively. The Supreme Court instead of being protective to the rights of speech freedom has rather made restrictions on it and suggested that any form of speech or writing that endangers the state shall be subjected to punishment.

However, there are no limitations or standards that would uniformly base a judgment on whether a particular speech will instigate threats to the state. Thus, the privilege to consider something a threat is being left in the hands of lawmakers, making it more dangerous and hazardous to civilians that are vocal to their opinion and ideas. The continuity of the Espionage Act and Sedition Law was further translated through the Smith Act, which on the other end was still protected under the First Amendment.

The Smith Act made any means or attempt of overthrowing the American government by force or violence punishable. Ideally, it sounded as a form of protectionism for the government. But in reality, this was mainly used as a weapon to contain Communism during this era. And despite its questionable standing regarding the constitutionality of the Act, the Supreme Court made it possible to put its “advocacy of action” under protection through the tenets of the First Amendment.

Thus making it possible to censor any form of speech that shall incite the overthrow of government, and in turn punish anyone that shall render this act. Thus, the Espionage Act works relatively in relation with the First Amendment. Though, Espionage Act is suppressive in nature, such that it limits, if not prohibits freedom of speech; the First Amendment has always been a protective shield for the would-be-violations of the Espionage Act. The First Amendment plays as a legalizing and legitimizing mechanism for the policies that are under the Espionage Act.

On the other hand, the First Amendment, though ideally must support and encourage the freedom rights of civilians, journalists and even activists, it doesn’t serve its purpose but rather serves as sugar-coat for the continuing suppression of freedom of speech for most of the people. Consequently, the First Amendment has not been of any help for the protection of journalists because it always reasons out on the basis of “national security measures” which are at most times vague definitions (Vladeck 16).

Thus the First Amendment only regulates the inflow of information, and in the process renders journalists the incapacity to deliver “good-faith” investigations that are of great public concern for it may be taken as something that shall threaten national security and harm national interests. Therefore, there exists a direct relationship between the two. Though ideally, First Amendment must take a part that is contrasting to the Espionage Act such that it shall serve as checks and balance to minimize violations of freedom rights, contrastingly though, the First Amendment serves as protection for the legality of the Espionage Act.

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  • Date: 19 February 2017

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