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Frontline

Filed under Columns, Focus, Showcase

We Still Don’t Understand the First Amendment

The freedom of speech is not a concept entirely understood by people.

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As most of us know, the first amendment gives us the freedom to say what we want, with freedom from government intervention. This principle is well-liked by mostly everyone, as we all like to   say whatever we wish. The trouble comes when we enter a shady, gray type of speech.

Many uphold the theory that hate speech is not free speech. The issue with this is twofold: who gets to decide what is and isn’t hate speech, and are we comfortable with handing the government moral authority to police language as they see fit. If we can decide as individuals what is and isn’t hate speech, there can be no end. The first amendment guarantees protection for whatever speech you wish to speak. The only speech that is not protected is the call to action. You cannot yell fire in a crowded theater, because that is a call to action for people to begin stampeding. Anything short of a call to action is protected. Even the most vulgar, hateful things you can imagine are protected. Rape jokes, Nazis, whatever it may be, policing speech is not the answer. If you believe in sending the government in to shut someone down, you are a fascist.

The first amendment was not designed for unimportant topics. It protects very important and extreme ideas and speech. Many believe that for the greater good, policing language and telling people what they can and can’t say is a worthwhile strategy. Well, as George Washington put it, “If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to slaughter.”

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