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The Freedom of Speech and First Amendment: Analytical Essay

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2017 was considered an important year for the freedom of speech and first amendment advocates. News outlets and social media all over the nation would mainly speak about white nationals’ rallies. the take a knee movement was born sparking controversy all around the country if not the world. college campuses were not the exception. across the country they were at the center of the debate. For several months we heard the same story repeatedly in the news and social media.

On October 19, 2017 white nationalist Richard spencer was scheduled to speak at the Philips Center for the Performing Arts in Florida where he was received by opponents who chanted “say loud, say it clear, Nazis are not welcomed here. [1] Florida governor Rick Scott was forced to declare a state of emergency due to violent protests that were taking place on campus and to increase law enforcement presence so as to control the protesting crowds and avoid further violent incidents.

When events like this take place, the circumstances are usually identical: violent demonstrations erupt as the result of an individual bringing a polemical conversation to a school campus, sometimes getting shut down and sometimes resulting in rage and uproar from those who do not agree with the views being shared. This draws a divisive line among people who want to limit controversial debates, and those who believe that everyone is free to express views and perspectives freely despite how extreme they may be, which begs the question, what exactly does freedom of speech means? Is it protected by the first amendment of the United States of America’s Constitution.

The first amendment shields everyone from being punished for speaking up for what they believe. it gives every individual the power to stand up and protest in a peaceful manner and to speak against anyone including the president congress and schools without being retaliated on. our founding fathers believed this to be fundamental to democracy and I believe they were absolutely right. Without freedom of speech the civil rights would have never existed. Without freedom of speech there wouldn’t be women’s right to vote movements and unfortunately our society would not be the society we have today. However, freedom of speech only applies to the government itself and to legal and public entities which are places that are funded with our tax dollars as well as schools police departments libraries courthouses post offices and college and university campuses. private companies and communities on the other hand are free to censor an individual in any form they choose. For example, ESPN is free to fire a sports anchor for saying something that goes against company policies, but that anchor cannot be arrested for what he or she may have said. Another scenario would be the NFL. They could make a rule banning players from kneeling, but they could not get arrested if they chose to do so.

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Although we live in a free country which promotes and encourages individual to express and live freely there are certain limits to it. there are actions that are not covered under the first amendment. Blackmail threats, solicitation of a crime, inciting violence, lying under oath and violations of copyright are examples of actions that do not fall under the safeguard of the first amendment. but the question in this case is: is hate speech protected? Some people argue that school campuses, colleges and universities are places where diversity and learning needs to be welcomed and for this reason there should be no place for hate. But in reality, when a speaker is addressing a crowd for the most part hate speech is and should continue to be protected. a speaker can say racist homophobic or mean-spirited words about a certain group or groups of individuals based on their culture sexual preference nationality etc., and this would not be considered illegal and he or she could not be arrested. the opposite would happen if the speaker incites and intentionally provokes a crowd to commit a crime. for example, a KKK leader has the right to speak degrading and humiliating words about different races or individuals. this action would not be considered a crime. what would be illegal is if this individual pointed out another person or groups of people and asked the crowd to attack that person or group and the crows actually does it.

It’s not difficult to speak against hate speech. some argue that it is unnecessary offensive and can cause damage to the public its intended for. but there is a good reason why it must be protected. Nor government nor any governmental entity should have the power to decide what would be considered hateful and what would not. One example would be President Trump banning NBC’s Saturday Night Live’s skits just because he considers them offensive to himself. Nobody, not even the president should have that kind of power.

Public universities are public entities because they are funded by U.S. tax dollars meaning that no public college or university should deny any speaker from expressing their views regardless of how extreme we think they may be. On April 18, 2017 Auburn University tried to get white nationalist Richard Spencer to stop speaking on campus but a federal judge ruled that this action was a violation of his constitutional first amendment rights. [2] Things are different and more complicated when students or public safety is involved. On September 2017, the university of California Berkeley spent over six hundred thousand dollars when conservative speaker Ben Shapiro gave a speech there. [3] This was to cover personal security costs and to provide enough security through campus to avoid highly anticipated violent protests. but should universities just use the threat of violence to prevent speakers from expressing their views even when they do not agree and if arrangements need to be made in order to keep them safe who should bear the cost I join free speech advocates when I say that a university must do everything in its power to allow and protect speakers regardless of the message they are trying to share. One of the most outspoken advocates for freedom of speech is Robert Reich, an economist and professor at Berkeley who is known for his liberal views. He has participated several times in different news broadcasts advocating for individuals he openly disagrees with the most. At one interview at the news broadcaster ABC, dated April 30, 2017 he said “I tell my students that the best way to learn about something is to talk to people who disagree with you because that forces you to sharpen your views and test your views. A university of all places is the locus where we want to have provocative views. [4]

Do we really want administrators and officials deciding what or who is offensive and who’s not? if a liberal campus decides to ban white supremacist spencer could a conservative campus decide to ban Colin Kaepernick or Hillary Clinton? We must know and be aware that censorship goes both ways. If we give up that right, we are giving up a big portion of our freedom.

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