In the United States, citizens have several rights that are protected by the United States Constitution. In the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Freedom of Expression (speech) is recognized. The Freedom of Speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. The right to Freedom of Speech is not absolute and is common subject to limitations such as libel, slander, copyright violation, and revelation of information that is classified. While some believe Freedom of Speech violates the rights of others, it is one of the most fundamental rights that citizens of the United States exercise. I. Freedom of Speech
Censorship is defined as "the control of information and ideas circulated within a society" ("What is Censorship?"). Many citizens of the United States believe that the Freedom of Speech should be restricted. These people think that speech should be limited to protect the feelings of others. As said by Arman J. Britton, "Words are just words until they are put in a certain context. However, even words taken out of context are just words and cannot be subjected to a banning every time it offends someone. The First Amendment doesn’t [SIC] take sides. Putting limits on freedom of speech only creates a slippery slope where more and more beliefs and stances become censored, edited or never heard" (Britton). The Freedom of Speech is a principle that the United States was built upon. Everybody has his or her own opinions, thoughts and beliefs that do not necessarily agree with another person's. One person's beliefs should not be discounted or prohibited because it offends someone else. That goes against the First Amendment of the Constitution (Britton).
Freedom of Speech is not limited to just words. This amendment includes the following rights: not to speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag), to use certain offensive words to convey political messages, to contribute money to political campaigns, to advertise commercial products, and to engage in symbolic speech ("What does free..."). All of these things are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Some citizens in America may not agree with people that choose not to salute the flag, but it is the right of each person to choose. A few rights that are not included under Freedom of Speech are: to incite actions that would harm others, make or distribute obscene materials, burn draft cards as anti-war protest, permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration, of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event, of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event ("What does free...").
Although the rights stated above are included under the First Amendment of the Constitution, they were not always recognized. Many supreme court cases have been fought to protect First Amendment rights. One example is Texas vs. Johnson. In this case Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag in front of the Dallas City Hall as a protest against Reagan. During the protest no one was physically injured or threatened with injury, although several witnesses were seriously offended by the flag burning. After being sentenced to one year in jail and charged a $2,000 fine, the case was appealed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and the case moved on to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that Johnson's actions fell into the category of expressive conduct and had a political nature. This action was protected under the First Amendment and has been acknowledged as a right since the case ended in 1989 ("Texas v. Johnson").
The Constitution's protection of speech is a central concept of the American political system. There is a direct link between Freedom of Expression and democracy. The freedom to express one's self enables people to obtain information from a variety of sources, make decisions, and communicate those decisions to the government. Instead of the government establishing and dictating the truth, American people have a say in their country. Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "freedom to think as [one] will and to speak as [one] think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth" ("Freedom of Speech and..."). The connection of freedom of speech to self-governance does not tell it all. Freedom of Speech has a value on a more personal level. The human spirit demands self-expression and through the Freedom of Speech in America each person can express their ideas freely. II. Censorship of the Internet
When the Internet was introduced in the mid to late 1900s a new version of censorship was created. On the Internet, there are thousands of WebPages that one can visit. With the creation of this new resource, a new opportunity for censorship began. The Freedom of Speech online is continuously threatened. Individuals in the United States think that the Internet should be censored to only speech that the government considers suitable for children ("Internet Censorship"). There have been supreme court cases about this very issue. In the court case Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court declared the Internet to be a free speech zone. The ACLU website states, "The government, the court said, can no more restrict a person's access to words or images on the Internet than it could be allowed to snatch a book out of a reader's hands in the library or cover over a statue of a nude in a museum" ("Internet Censorship").
Many parents believe censoring the Internet is appropriate because it keeps their children safe. Although it is true that some websites on the Internet may not be appropriate for children, it is not the duty of the government to protect every child. With the advanced technology of the 20th century, parents can set controls on Internet usage for their children. Every citizen of the United States has the freedom of expression and should be able to post things without having to worry about if children will see them. If the Internet was censored, one could lose the opportunity to blog about their ideas or share their art.
Other adults think the Internet should be censored to deter and prevent cyber bullying. In an article about cyber bullying an expert says, "The Federal Government should focus on stopping cyber bullying instead of pushing ahead with its controversial plan to filter the web" (Collerton). This expert believes that education is the only effective way to provide a tangible benefit to the children. The policy of filtering the Internet will not make a difference to children even though the policy is advertised as a "cyber safety policy" (Collerton). The only way to prevent cyber bullying is to stop bullying, in person and online. Filtering the Internet will not change the children and the issues of bullying. Some people even believe the Internet will help subside bullying. The use of the Internet to share ideas about how to prevent bullying and to share personal stories can help the cause.
The problem of piracy online has been growing rapidly. In 2011 the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives was originally written to help with piracy; but in fact would have led to Internet censorship (Sheridan). SOPA would allow the government to shut down websites it finds to have violated copyright laws. The government's reach would also extend to search engines and internationally operated websites (Sheridan). Although this may seem beneficial, the website Tumblr disagrees by saying, "As written, [SOPA] would betray more than a decade of U.S. policy and advocacy of Internet freedom by establishing a censorship system using the same blacklisting technologies pioneered by China and Iran" (Sheridan). Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt blasted the bill saying it would lead to censorship. Schmidt recommended regulations based on tracing payments spent at websites offering illegal materials (Reuters). There are solutions to stopping piracy other than censoring the internet. SOPA was not passed in the House of Representatives; but another bill was passed in 2012 that is just as menacing. A bill called CISPA was passed that requires private companies to hand over anyone's personal information if requested by any government agency. This bill is supposed to allow the government to use information for "cyber security". The bill has not passed the senate or been signed into law by President Obama. Obama says he will veto the bill if it lands on his desk (Kersey). III. News Organizations
America has searched for news since the first newspaper was printed by Richard Pierce in Boston on September 25, 1690 (Brown). Every time one opens a newspaper or magazine, some articles and information have been edited out of the publication. While news stories are often edited for length, there are many other reasons news organizations censor their articles. One reason stories are censored is to conceal security information. The U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic operations function with a certain amount of secrecy. In 1971, The New York Times published secret Defense Department documents showing details of American involvement in the Vietnam war. This caused the Nixon administration to go to court in a failed attempt to keep the leaked documents from being published (Halbrooks).
Another reason news is censored is to hide political bias. Critics often chastise media for having political bias. Both the American political right and political left complain about media bias. Communist countries that used to stop the free flow of information have largely disappeared, but even in America, censorship issues keep some news from reaching citizens (Halbrooks). This type of censorship may be an advantage to the government, but it is not fair to the people in America. Law-abiding citizens deserve to know the issues and affairs taking place in their country. Censorship prevents people from gaining access to knowledge that should not be restricted. Several organizations have tried to put a stop to censorship and political bias in the news. One organization in particular, The Media Research Center, recently rented five billboards in Times Square as part of the "Stop Censoring the News" campaign. The five billboards are displayed in Times Square covering 3,800 square feet (Chapman). An article written about the billboards says two of the signs read, "It's Time the Liberal Media Stop Censoring the News!" and the two others read, "Start Telling the Truth!" (Chapman). These billboards are just one example of how Americans feel about censorship in the news.
One very important cause for censorship in news is to protect one's privacy. It is a known fact that when minors commit a crime, the name of the delinquent is not published. Other information about crimes is also censored when it seems to "graphic" or "violent" for readers. Although this may seem fair to the lawbreaker; Americans have the right to know when crimes happen in the areas surrounding them. IV. Censorship in Schools
School library books are among the most visible targets for censorship and are frequently challenged for various reasons. The American Association of Schools Administrators and the American Library Association define censorship as: "The removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic, or educational materials - of images, ideas, and information - on the grounds that these are morally or otherwise objectionable in light of standards applied by the censor" ("Schools and Censorship..."). It is astounding how many books are challenged in school libraries. Information provided on the People for the American Way website: Between 1990 and 2000, there were 6,364 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom. Seventy-one percent of the challenges were to materials in schools or school libraries. Another twenty-four percent were to material in public libraries. Sixty percent of the challenges were brought by parents, fifteen percent by patrons, and nine percent by administrators. ("Schools and Censorship...")
Studies show that many parents are the cause for censorship in schools. Parents do not want their children developing and using profane language; yet profanity appears in many worthwhile books, films, and other materials. Works containing profanity often contain realistic portrayals of how an individual might respond in a situation. NCAC states that "censorship based on individual sensitivities and concerns restricts the world of knowledge available to students" (NCAC). Teachers also struggle with the consequences of censorship. By limiting ideas that can be discussed in class, censorship can remove the creativity from the art of teaching. Teaching is reduced to bland, pre-approved exercises.
Books are not the only things censored in schools. There have been several Supreme Court cases related to the freedom of speech in schools. In the case Tinker vs. Des Moines the court specifies that students do not "shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door" ("Free Speech..."). With that said, school administrators have the ability to restrict the speech of their students. The case Tinker vs. Des Moines, perhaps the best known student speech case, was a conflict about whether or not students could wear black armbands to protest against the Viet Nam War. The court ruled that this symbolic speech could only be prohibited if school administrators could show that it would cause a substantial disruption within the school ("Free Speech..."). Although students must follow school guidelines, amendment one rights are still protected by the United States Constitution. Works Cited
Britton, Armon J. "Freedom of Speech should never be limited." The South End Weekly. 6 October 2010. Web. 8 December 2013. Brown, R.J. HistoryBuff.com. Web. 9 December 2013.
Chapman, Michael. "Times Square Billboards: 'It's Time the Liberal Media Stop Censoring the News!" NewsBusters. 20 February 2013. Web. 9 December 2013. < http://newsbusters.org/blogs/michael-chapman/2013/02/20/times-square-billboards-it-s-time-liberal-media-stop-censoring-news> Collerton, Sarah. "Target cyber bullies, not censorship, expert says." ABC News. July 24 2009. Web. 8 December 2013. "Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press." Web. 8 December 2013. "Free Speech Rights of Students." Web. 8 December 2013.
Halbrooks, Glenn. "How Media Censorship Affects the News." About.com. Web. 8 December 2013. "Internet Censorship." ACLU. Web. 8 December 2013. < https://www.aclu.org/free-speech/internet-censorship> Kersey, Ben. "'Worse than SOPA' CISPA bill passes." Slash Gear. 27 April 2012. Web. 8 December 2013. NCAC - National Coalition Against Censorship. "Censorship in Schools: Learning, Speaking, and Thinking freely: The First Amendment in Schools." Web Junction. 21 March 2012. Web. 8 December 2013. Reuters. "SOPA: Does bill encourage Internet censorship?" The Christian Science Monitor. 16 November 2011. Web. 8 December 2013. "Schools and Censorship: Banned Books." People for the American way. Web. 8 December 2013. Sheridan, Michael. "SOPA is 'Internet censorship,' says Google & Twitter & Facebook." Daily News. 17 November 2011. Web. 8 December 2013. "Texas v. Johnson". The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 5 January 2014. < http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_88_155> "What does free speech mean?" United States Courts. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Web. 8 December 2013. < http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/get-involved/constitution-activities/first-amendment/free-speech.aspx> "What is Censorship?"