No other democratic society in the world permits personal freedoms to
the degree of the United States of America. Within the last sixty years,
American courts, especially the Supreme Court, have developed a set of
legal doctrines that thoroughly protect all forms of the freedom of
expression. When it comes to evaluating the degree to which we take
advantage of the opportunity to express our opinions, some members of
society may be guilty of violating the bounds of the First Amendment by
publicly offending others through obscenity or racism. Americans have
developed a distinct disposition toward the freedom of expression
The First Amendment clearly voices a great American respect toward the
freedom of religion. It also prevents the government from “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.”
Since the early history of our country, the protection of basic freedoms
has been of the utmost importance to Americans.
In Langston Hughes’ poem, “Freedom,” he emphasizes the struggle to
enjoy the freedoms that he knows are rightfully his. He reflects the
American desire for freedom now when he says, “I do not need my freedom
when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.” He recognizes the need
for freedom in its entirety without compromise or fear.
I think Langston Hughes captures the essence of the American
immigrants’ quest for freedom in his poem, “Freedom’s Plow.” He accurately
describes American’s as arriving with nothing but dreams and building
America with the hopes of finding greater freedom or freedom for the first
time. He depicts how people of all backgrounds worked together for one
I selected Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a fictitious example of
the evils of censorship in a world that is becoming illiterate. In this
book, the government convinces the public that book reading is evil because
it spreads harmful opinions and agitates people against the government.
The vast majority of people accept this censorship of expression without
question and are content to see and hear only the government’s propaganda.
I found this disturbing yet realistic. Bradbury’s hidden opposition to
this form of censorship was apparent throughout the book and finally
prevailed in the end when his main character rebelled against the practice
of burning books.
Among the many forms of protests are pickets, strikes, public speeches
and rallies. Recently in New Jersey, more than a thousand community
activists rallied to draft a “human” budget that puts the needs of the poor
and handicapped as a top priority. Rallies are an effective means for
people to use their freedoms effectively to bring about change from the
Freedom of speech is constantly being challenged as is evidenced in a
recent court case where a Gloucester County school district censored
reviews of two R-rated movies from a school newspaper. Superior Court
Judge, Robert E. Francis ruled that the student’s rights were violated
under the state Constitution. I feel this is a major break through for
students’ rights because it limits editorial control of school newspapers
by educators and allows students to print what they feel is important.
A newly proposed bill (A-557) would prevent school officials from
controlling the content of student publications. Critics of the bill feel
that “student journalists may be too young to understand the
responsibilities that come with free speech.” This is a valid point;
however, it would provide an excellent opportunity for them to learn about
their First Amendment rights that guarantees free speech and freedom of the
In his commencement address to Monmouth College graduates, Professor
Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School defended the broad right to free
speech. He stated, “My message to you graduates is to assert your rights,
to use them responsibly and boldly, to oppose racism, to oppose sexism, to
oppose homophobia and bigotry of all kinds and to do so within the spirit
of the First Amendment, not by creating an exception to it.” I agree that
one should feel free to speak openly as long as it does not directly or
indirectly lead to the harm of others.
One of the more controversial issues was the recent 2 Live Crew
incident involving obscenity in rap music. Their record, “As Nasty as They
Wanna Be,” was ruled obscene in federal court. They were acquitted of the
charges and quickly became a free speech martyr. Although many stores
pulled the album, over two million copies sold as a result of the incident.