No other democratic society in the world permits personal freedoms to the degree of the United States of America. Within the last sixty years, American courts, especially the Supreme Court, have developed a set of legal doctrines that thoroughly protect all forms of the freedom of expression. When it comes to evaluating the degree to which we take advantage of the opportunity to express our opinions, some members of society may be guilty of violating the bounds of the First Amendment by publicly offending others through obscenity or racism. Americans have developed a distinct disposition toward the freedom of expression throughout history.
The First Amendment clearly voices a great American respect toward the freedom of religion. It also prevents the government from "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." Since the early history of our country, the protection of basic freedoms has been of the utmost importance to Americans.
In Langston Hughes' poem, "Freedom," he emphasizes the struggle to enjoy the freedoms that he knows are rightfully his. He reflects the American desire for freedom now when he says, "I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. I cannot live on tomorrow's bread." He recognizes the need for freedom in its entirety without compromise or fear.
I think Langston Hughes captures the essence of the American immigrants' quest for freedom in his poem, "Freedom's Plow." He accurately describes American's as arriving with nothing but dreams and building America with the hopes of finding greater freedom or freedom for the first time. He depicts how people of all backgrounds worked together for one cause: freedom.
I selected Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 as a fictitious example of the evils of censorship in a world that is becoming illiterate. In this book, the government convinces the public that book reading is evil because it spreads harmful opinions and agitates people against the government. The vast majority of people accept this censorship of expression without question and are content to see and hear only the government's propaganda. I found this disturbing yet realistic. Bradbury's hidden opposition to this form of censorship was apparent throughout the book and finally prevailed in the end when his main character rebelled against the practice of burning books.
Among the many forms of protests are pickets, strikes, public speeches and rallies. Recently in New Jersey, more than a thousand community activists rallied to draft a "human" budget that puts the needs of the poor and handicapped as a top priority. Rallies are an effective means for people to use their freedoms effectively to bring about change from the government.
Freedom of speech is constantly being challenged as is evidenced in a recent court case where a Gloucester County school district censored reviews of two R-rated movies from a school newspaper. Superior Court Judge, Robert E. Francis ruled that the student's rights were violated under the state Constitution. I feel this is a major break through for students' rights because it limits editorial control of school newspapers by educators and allows students to print what they feel is important.
A newly proposed bill (A-557) would prevent school officials from controlling the content of student publications. Critics of the bill feel that "student journalists may be too young to understand the responsibilities that come with free speech." This is a valid point; however, it would provide an excellent opportunity for them to learn about their First Amendment rights that guarantees free speech and freedom of the press.
In his commencement address to Monmouth College graduates, Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School defended the broad right to free speech. He stated, "My message to...