Posted at 1 p.m. April 5, 2017

Free speech and the chains that bind

The United States Constitution was framed at the birth of the United States. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 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.”

But, what constitutes free speech? Some examples covered on the US Supreme Court’s website state that freedom of speech encompasses: not to speak, or salute the flag, based on the case of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett (1943); students to wear black armbands to school in protest of a war, as seen in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969); to engage in symbolic speech, such as burning the flag in protest, from the case of Texas v. Johnson (1989).

Also included are examples of what does not constitute as free speech: to burn draft cards in protest of war, in the case of United States v. O’Brien (1968); students making an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event, as seen in Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser (1986); to incite actions that would harm others, i.e. shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, from the case of Schenk v. United States (1919).

The US Constitution is classified as a living document, meaning it was made to change with the times. The basis of humanity is change and adaptation. Because of human nature, the evolution of the freedom of speech will continue to be debated as the acceptations of new social norms evolve as well.

Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player, challenged the social norms when he kneeled during the National Anthem. This caused uproar between people over whether his actions were protected under the First Amendment or if he had taken it too far. He still has yet to receive a 2017 NFL contract. There are military veterans that will speak in opposition as well as in defense for Kaepernick. One veteran, Nicki Jai, posted on her Twitter account on Aug. 30, “I served 25 yrs in the AF to protect everyone’s 1st Amend rights. I support you #VeteransForKaepernick.”

“The problem with our freedom of speech isn’t that it goes too far, but how selectively restrictive it is, which doesn’t really make it free speech at all. If I publicly said anything about the Kaepernick case, it would be considered anything from slander to right-out racism in most parts of the US. It seems more and more these days, free speech means nothing if you might offend somebody,” Robert Vince, a soldier in the Wyoming National Guard, said.

Another soldier in the Guard said he feels that, “freedom of speech has not gone too far. What has altered is tact and delivery to intended audiences and media attention towards those who use it too shamelessly. AKA, Westboro Baptist types,” Joe Marchese said.

While Kaepernick was protesting to oppose police brutality toward African Americans, there are people who feel differently.

“I believe that only certain types of people have freedom of speech, I personally don’t think it exists. If you are a minority you can pretty much do anything you want speech or otherwise. Cops have to be overly careful around the media because they will spin the facts to make it look like they did it on purpose because of their skin color and not because he was breaking the law. In regards to Kaepernick, he used his freedom of speech rights, but just because you are free to say your opinion doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” said retired Sgt. Jacob Dunlap.

A big factor in the Kaepernick controversy was that since he was refusing to stand for the flag and National Anthem, he was taken by some as disgracing the men and women who fought and died for his right to stand. Although, if the right that they fought for was the freedom of speech, and he was not causing anyone direct harm, then he did not violate his rights. At this, perhaps the right of freedom of speech has not gone too far, but rather, perspectives have not caught up with the times. An example of this could be the language found in movies and TV shows today versus 10 years ago. There will always be individuals that are offended by something that someone else says or does.

Something that could be considered a large portion of why some might feel like free speech has gone too far is the popularity of social media. Social media allows viewers as well as users, a way to see different views across the board, and that amount of available information is bound to contain information deemed inappropriate to some.

With the availability of information, different perspectives and the changing of times, the only conclusion to the question of whether free speech has gone too far, is that it is a personal assessment paired with the current situation.


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