Free Speech

In 1996 at Bonneville High school in Ogden, Utah a young foreign exchange student from Poland sat with her friend eating lunch. As she gazed upward she could see into the window of one of the history classes. To her horror, visible to the entire student body was displayed a Nazi flag. The flag was being displayed as part of a class on World War II and was displayed next to a Japanese flag, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia to highlight certain aspects of that time period. After asking for the flag to be removed without avail, the student, Marta Daszkiewicz, wrote a letter to the local newspapers editorial section. In which she wrote “The swastika still evoked fears because the neo-Nazi movement is still alive in Germany. If you have Polish license plates, you can get beat up by neo-Nazis when you go into Germany," (Daszkiewicz, personal communication, February 15, 2012)

A local newspaper at the time reported: [Karen] Miner said she was surprised to hear that Daszkiewicz, whose grandfather was killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, felt the Nazi flag had no place on her classroom wall. “My father was one of the first Americans to go in D-Day," Miner said, adding that he helped liberate Paris and later some of the concentration camps where Nazis killed millions of Jews and members of other ethnic groups they deemed to be inferior.” (Associated Press 1996) At the school, teachers took sides, and because she was miles away from her parents and other means of support the young student felt ostracized. She felt like she had come to the land of the free and when she decided to speak her mind, she was shot down. (Daszkiewicz, personal communication, February 15, 2012) Karen Miner, the teacher, also felt her own freedoms had been brought under fire, and although she had been supported by her school and local school board, she certainly was not promoting Nazi ideology. (Associated Press 1996)

What the student and the teacher had experienced here was a classic clash over when and if our freedom of speech should be censored. In either position; it is hard to know how we should respond. This was a balancing act with the teacher on one side representing the government, her students, and herself and the student on the other representing the individual. Both sides would probably describe their own freedom of expression to be the one that was threatened. And both have a reasonable claim to have their rights being protected. In the United States of America, the right to freedom of speech has been held as one of this country’s highest values, as nationally recognized by the Constitution of the United States of America. Censorship of speech is a controversial subject matter, and will probably always be debated in the U.S. as long as this country exists. Balancing individual expression against the public’s welfare and safety is one of the most significant challenges of government. The passage and enforcement of unbalanced laws lead to suppression then revolt and an eventual disintegration of that society.

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The great balancing act is that even within the first amendment itself, there are often conflicts between the specific rights. And often Freedom of Speech is paired against not only the other rights within the 1st amendment, and also against the government’s role to protect the nation. Supreme court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country." (Holmes, Abrams v. United States, 1919). Justice Holmes did not believe free speech should never be limited however. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. [...]...

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