I put both of these issues of speech and press together because in my mind they involve words or ideas being expressed. In our modern-day this would probably include video. pictures and other media as a way of expressing ideas, thoughts, concepts or even artistic expression. The thing is the idea here is to prevent the government from passing laws that prevent people from expressing themselves with any of the things listed above.
The first amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law… or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press
Once against we need to go back to the beginning of the amendment understand this amendment was designed to prevent congress from making laws. It is a preventative amendment. specifically at this point it is about preventing Congress from “abridging’ speech or the press. The definition of abridgment in this case is “restrict somebody’s rights: to deprive somebody of rights or privileges”. Congress therefore can not pass any law that would restrict the right of the individual speak or the press to print whether they want to speak or print. The spirit of the right would extend to video, pictures and art as well. The idea is not narrowly defined but broad-based.
To me this means any law that is passed to restrict people from saying what they want to say or expressing themselves in any form of media represents as violation of this amendment. Everybody cheers at this point until you consider the full implications of this idea. I will consider two issues: Pornography and Political Correctness as ways of illustrating what I am talking about at this point. Before that I would have to say that my overall concern is that it is understood that people understand that the idea is to keep the government paws off of what you say, print, post or present. The idea is to preserve this freedom above all else.
Pornography has used this part of the first amendment under freedom of the press and speech both to put forward that they have the right to produce what they wish to produce. Many religious people do not like this and there have been laws in the past that restricted or made pornography illegal. These have been overturned or modified. Some laws do restrict what pornography can do as far as what ages people can be to be in the porn and who can legally view the porn or who it can be sold to. I personally don’t know if these laws are right based on the Constitution. The real sticky area is defining who is a legal adult and thus allow certain restrictions based on this definition. The problem with this is that age lines such as these are basically someone’s opinion and they have had the issue of being flexible. It wasn’t but 100 years ago in t his country that women were getting married as early as age thirteen and now most states also have more reasonable laws about teen sex. I mean if a thirteen year old and a fifteen year old hook up, I know my state would probably let it pass. If the threaten year old hooks up with a seventeen year old then the seventeen year old is going to get charged.
I say all that to point to this, we will let thirteen year old have sex under certain circumstances so why then don’t we let them watch sex should they choose to do so? This issue of children and their protection always comes up but once a teen is doing it, what becomes the rational for not allowing them to watch it? I mean what is the logic not the emotions on this one? It is a good question. This really is a bunch of arbitrary stuff that in light of this part of the first amendment needs to be handled with caution. Does the government have a role in protecting children and what is that role? Should they not be also about protecting the rights of the child as well?
I am not advocating children in porn. I am simply stating their has to be a legal reason that is Constitutionally not acceptable and not just throwing out numbers and our moral sensibilities at the problem. I am not enough of a lawyer to know what that is or what that might be so I am stuck on that one, but as far as pornography being able to be produced and distributed to others for adults, I am good with that and the reason is it is the same right that keeps the government away when I want to produce religious literature. Sorry there is a fine line here that is a dangerous one to cross and I would rather ere on the side of freedom than having the government regulate or shut it down.
Political Correctness is another issue that hits this part of the amendment as an example. Now I am not talking about whether private companies can have standards of behavior and language, that is their right as long as such standard do not violate the Constitutional right of the people who work for them. This gets tricky because Political Correctness would be fine if it was a cultural movement but unfortunately they cross the line and try to get the force of government to enact the changes they want to see. It is this desire to use the force of government to get what they wish at the point of the gun of government that makes Political Correctness one of the greatest threats to free speech in a long time.
I have a hard time with people losing their job because of something they say. They have a right to say it. I also have a hard time with corporations firing people for something they say off the clock. There is a real problem when a person’s right to free speech is violated in this way. If these things were laid out when the person started work that is a different story because it becomes terms in the employment contract. When government gives employers this power I think they are over the line. Political Correctness should not be allowed to legislate their particular form morality based on what they believe is proper or improper for people to say.
The nature of this amendment is preventing the government from abridging the right of speech and the press. It is about stopping them from interfering with the individuals right to say or produce things of the content they wish. This actually has some scary implications if truly applied but also some good ones. I think we need to step back and realize that in many instances we need to change our understanding about letting people say and print what they want. We need to be able to disagree with one another but also be very willing to defend the rights of the person disagreeing with us to disagree.
Next: Assembly and Petition