Is There Free Speech?

By Wiha Powell

Freedom of Speech or Free Speech: (noun) the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.

In the United States, people have the right to exercise freedom of speech. Sometimes this freedom is exercised in the form of press. In light of recent worldwide events, it seems that the right to exercise this freedom has become deadly as some view such speech as offensive (i.e., the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper headquarters).

So the question remains, as it has been for many decades, “is there such a thing as free speech?”

Personally, I believe there is no such thing as free speech. Many would disagree and even call me an enemy of free speech. According to the First Amendment, everyone has the right to free speech. However, not to be a Debbie Downer, not even in the United States is free speech ‘unlimited.’ Under the First Amendment, there are categories such as libel, slander and defamation, hate words and obscenity that are prohibited for reasons of welfare and public safety.

In 2003, the Supreme Court held that speech intended to intimidate, such as cross burning, might not receive First Amendment protection. One does not have the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater because of the potential danger to innocent people. However, as the American Civil Liberties Union legal counsel, Gabe Rothman, wrote in 2012, “The ‘crowded theater’ example is worse than useless in defining the boundaries of constitutional speech. When used metaphorically, it can be deployed against any unpopular speech.” In other words, if speech is completely free, one can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater or an empty theater if one perceived that there is a real fire, without worrying about trampling on anyone’s right.

The right to say whatever you feel is a broad right that is ‘theoretically’ covered by the First Amendment. In reality, there are limitations. These limitations are put in place to prevent individuals from feeling less free and to also prevent their private space and peace from being invaded. In hindsight, the freedom to say whatever one pleases, no matter your political affiliation, religion, race and sex, is curtailed based on someone feeling that their “private space and peace is being invaded.” Apparently, the First Amendment took its cue from the nursery rhythm “stick and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me.” But in actuality, names do hurt.

I’m a firm believer of free speech. But in order to express any opinions without censorship or restraint, there will be an invasion of an individual’s private space and sense of peace. Even though the First Amendment guarantees free speech, there are limitations. Therefore, it cannot be free speech.

For those who say the First Amendment guarantees free speech, keep the following proverb in mind: “Not everything that shines is gold.”


One thought on “Is There Free Speech?

  1. Do you see this coming from George Carlin, The seven things you can’t say under Freedom of Speech. To grow into the 7 things you can say under Freedom of Speech!


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