Ideally, all forms of speech should enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. In a responsible society where people respect each other’s rights, that would not be an issue. Most probably, that is what the founding fathers had in mind when discussing the amendments to make on the constitution in 1791. However, as we all know, the world is full of an equal number of rational and irrational beings. For this reason, certain types of speech aren’t covered.
What constitutes speech?
Before proceeding further, it’s important to define what speech is. In this regard, it is:
- The words flowing out of a person’s mouth
- All written works
- Online posts
- Movies and television
- Theater and dance
- Video games
- Signs on political yards
- Information on flyers
- Symbolic speech such as burning flags, effigies, and wearing certain types of armbands
As shown above, speech is quite widespread. Based on this information, it is easy to see why Freedom of Speech has to be placed within certain boundaries. Otherwise, people would abuse this right and threaten others at will without any recourse or repercussion. Fortunately, the courts exist to help interpret this law for anyone who feels aggrieved. Lawyers can help you prove your point in courts too.
Protection from the government
Whoever is asking whether free speech needs curtailing should look at what the government is capable of doing. If the government had its way, all forms of free speech would be prohibited. After all, the government is often the recipient of some of the harshest forms of criticism from the public. For this reason, it would rather prevent or block the sources of such criticisms. In this case, it would rather do away with free speech.
As is the case with most issues, you would find some people supporting the government stance on such matters. Sadly, the government may seem justified in taking such drastic measures until its actions threaten your Freedom of Speech. Suddenly, you see the wrong in all its actions. The good news is we are in a place where the government has to abide by the constitution, especially the demands placed on it by the First Amendment.
For about two years now, the US government has been wondering whether it needs to take drastic measures against several NFL players who refused to stand up when the national anthem was playing. If the government had its way, the footballers who took this step would be behind bars or stopped from ever playing again. However, Freedom of Speech ensures that the players’ rights to protest – what they consider – an injustice is protected.
Who can violate Freedom of Speech?
For the most part, Freedom of Speech offers protecting against some of the measures the government (local, state, or federal) is capable of doing against you. Here, the government refers to the institutions and officers occupying positions of power or authority. That said, the government isn’t the only institution that can hurt your freedom. The First Amendment protects you against or from the government. Does it protect against you from others?
Below are a few examples of institutions that could punish you for your speech:
- A private learning institution suspending you for criticizing its policy
- A private business sacking its employee for saying political stuff while on duty
- A private media firm opting not to publish your opinions that it disagrees with
In all these, what is clear is that words can affect us all. Words are capable of having the desired effect on the people for whom they are meant. For this reason, a clear boundary needs highlighting so that we all know where Freedom of Speech starts and ends. While it is true that the First Amendment offers plenty of protection, it would not be right to give it carte blanche regarding all manner of speech. A bit of leeway is necessary to protect everybody.