The First Amendment

picture of the first amendment

The First Amendment of the Constitution

When the founders began to write the U.S. Constitution they agreed that there were some rights that Americans could expect, and at the top of the list was freedom of expression. This is what allows someone to burn the American flag and even criticize the president without fear of arrest. This includes expression regarding social, political, religious and cultural matters. One clear, well-publicized illustration is when candidates running for elected office began to debate. It’s this freedom of speech that allows them to speak their minds.

Americans can also exercise their freedom of speech in printed form: newspapers, magazines, editorials, songs and poems. Who hasn’t seen this depicted at red carpet events, prestigious award ceremonies and on television shows?

Yet when it comes to commercial advertising and non-obscene sexual expression, the Supreme Court tolerates more regulation because it’s not as valuable as political speech.

Now let’s take a look at hate speech, which is a global problem and can either be written or spoken. It’s directed toward groups of people according to race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion. This would also include ethnic jokes on a radio, or burning a cross in the yard of an African American.

Threats are also closely watched and fall into the category of ‘fighting words’. Thus, either making a threat against the president, or a physician who performs abortions is not protected speech and can result in an arrest. Similarly, threats over social media are not protected either.

While at first glance, without in-depth analysis, it may appear that any manner of speech is permitted. But the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, has created a hierarchy. At the top – that which is most protected by the Constitution – is that of speech: the freedom to express a political viewpoint.

Thus, an American can speak his or her mind about a politician and not risk arrest. The government is prohibited from interfering with our freedom of speech. However, there is almost no First Amendment protection for obscenity, true threats, fighting words and false advertising. Those types of speech can land a person in jail. Is this "right" or should it be changed? What are your thoughts?

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