Why Is Freedom of Speech an Important Right

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Why Is Freedom of Speech an Important Right

One of the most essential principles of the United States constitution is the fundamental right to freedom of speech. Implemented into the First Amendment, freedom of speech gives all Americans the freedom to express their opinions and be critical of the government without fear of retribution. 

In the days of Colonial America, citizens could be imprisoned just for questioning the authority of their British rulers. Back then, just your words could land you in some serious legal trouble. In fact, the entire reason settlers moved to the North American colonies during the seventeenth century is because they were not being given religious freedoms. 

According to the First Amendment, every citizen of the United States is granted from birth the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. The legal boundaries around the First Amendment have been brought up in our judicial system on repeat, even to the Supreme Court. Final verdict: you can’t tread on free speech. 

Free speech is one of the foundational rights that America was built upon. It is a right that is necessary for change to happen. Just think about all of the events in American history that were made possible because of a willingness to speak out: the Revolution, the Civil Rights movement, women being able to vote. Without free speech, none of this would have been possible. 

At Printed Kicks, we believe that all Americans should have the right to express themselves freely and without fear. We work hard to honor the work of those who came before us and constantly remind ourselves of the significance of these freedoms. 

Still not convinced? Here are some of the biggest reasons why freedom of speech is such an important right. 

The Supreme Court Says So

Free speech issues first reached the Supreme Court in 1919 in Schenck v. U.S., where the Court unanimously decided to convict a member of the Socialist party for distributing anti-war leaflets to men eligible for the draft. However, months later, the parameters of speech were defined further, as Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis D. Brandeis declared that speech could only be punished if it caused a “clear and present danger.” Simply advocating for or criticizing a political group, though, could not be punishable by law.

This “clear and present danger” rule became a precedent in the Court and is still in practice today.

From that point on, more and more privileges were added to the freedom of speech clause. In 1969, in Brandenberg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court dismissed the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member, setting a new standard; speech could only be suppressed if it was intended and likely to cause “imminent lawless action.” That means that a threat of danger must be immediate and obvious in order for speech to be considered illegal. 

The First Amendment is not limited to just speech either. The amendment also protects expression through books, newspapers, leaflets, and rallies. It even protects “symbolic speech,” which is defined as a nonverbal expression with the intent to communicate ideas. In the 1969 case of Tinker v. Des Moines, the Court established the right of public school students to protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands.

It Is Necessary For Democracy to Function

Another reason why freedom of speech is such an important right is that it contributes to a functioning democracy. The entire basis of democracy is built on individual freedom and expression. If citizens of the country cannot even criticize the government, how can the government ever improve?

Freedom of speech essentially creates a system of checks and balances for the government, able to be adjusted at any time. If the people notice a clause in state or federal legislation that they dislike, they can unite to protest that law. The United States has a long history of protesting unjust laws. For example, the 1773 Boston Tea Party was pivotal in encouraging patriots to join the 1776 Revolution. 

The United States is an ever-growing, constantly adapting environment. The founders of our nation knew when they wrote the Constitution that it would need to be changed according to the times. That’s why they allowed for the passing of amendments. 

Furthermore, the right to express yourself and say what you want freely affirms the worth of each and every member of society. America is known as a land of opportunity for all, no matter what your background is. Giving people the right to communicate without restrictions exemplifies this idea of opportunity. 

It’s Not Up To The Government To Decide

Some people have argued that too much freedom in speech could be harmful, particularly in the form of hate speech. However, this mindset is exactly what hurt our ancestors in Colonial America when they were being censored by Great Britain. 

The solution to fighting hate speech is not through censorship. Rather, it is more worthwhile to combat those types of messages with positive ones. Time has proven that hateful opinions generally are weeded out and alienated from society. Allowing hateful people to expose themselves is a better approach than not allowing them to speak at all. 

Really, it is up to the people to decide what is considered acceptable in speech. Social norms are as far as it should go when it comes to limiting speech. It is not the government’s responsibility to decide what is hateful. Following that agenda can lead to a slippery slope of our rights being violated. 

If a hateful group does present a clear and immediate danger to the people though, they will be reprimanded. Freedom of speech also does not allow for speech that intimidates, harasses, or threatens others, even if it is just verbal. For instance, a threatening phone call is not constitutionally protected.

In Conclusion

Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, assembly, and petition; these fundamental rights are what America makes it the great nation it is. In the past, the Supreme Court has declared that this freedom is "the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom." Without these basic rights, our entire scope of freedom would be limited.

The nation’s commitment to preserving this right has been tested over the years. In times of war, or social distress, or national security issues, the country has had its opportunities to limit speech. Yet, these freedoms continue to prevail. 

As an American, you should always feel comfortable that you will have the freedom to express yourself. It doesn’t matter how unpopular your opinion is. If you have something to say, you have the right to say it. 

America’s journey to freedom was long and painful. It took centuries to set concrete standards on the government’s powers and to earn the rights that we so vigorously enjoy today. Even after the Revolution, seditious acts were punishable for years. 

Many innocent individuals suffered through the course of our nation’s development because of this right being violated. This is why we hold this right in the highest regard today. Not too long ago, our ancestors were fighting relentlessly for this freedom. 

You can see the true colors of your government by seeing how they deal with opposition. Do they allow for the exchange of ideas and the critique of policies? Or do they silence them ruthlessly? Democracy should be dedicated to protecting the expression of its people. 

Still, in many countries today, this right is not granted. In areas around the world, people are still being persecuted simply for expressing their opinions. As Americans, we enjoy an abundance of privileges. Without a doubt, freedom of speech is one of the most important ones. 

Why Free Speech Matters

Free speech and expression are how we grow as a people. It’s how we identify issues and create solutions to address them. There is a reason why our forefathers fought so hard to gain these rights. 

The First Amendment is an embodiment of America’s values. This amendment serves as an oath to protect our basic human rights. Never should these rights be taken for granted. 

Here at Printed Kicks, we are committed to preserving these rights and reminding others of their extreme importance. Take some time today to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy every day.

If you’re looking for a way to express yourself stylistically, check out our “Not The Bill Of Feelings” t-shirt, available in five colors and all sizes. 

 

Sources

Schenck v. United States (1919) | Khan Academy

Boston Tea Party - Definition, Dates & Facts | History.com

Freedom of Speech | History.com


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