The Power of Free Speech Essay
While free speech can help in creating a progressive society uncontrolled free speech acts as a destructive force that can incite hate, anger and violence which as a result requires it to be limited to certain justifiable boundaries.
The concept of the Freedom of Speech is attributed to being a fundamental human right wherein people are given the ability to exchange ideas, information or concepts without fear of censorship or interference.
In fact, it is a first Amendment right within the U.S. which prevents the government from establishing laws that infringe upon an individual’s inherent right to free speech and peaceful petition.
It must be noted though that despite the Freedom of Speech being a first Amendment right, subsequent amendments to the constitution as well as various historical acts such as the Sedition Act of 1798 and the Espionage Act of 1917 have as a result limited the application of the Freedom of Speech to certain boundaries (Peck, 1).
The reason behind this is rather simple, as a fundamental human right available to a human being from birth the Freedom of Speech can, and most often is, abused in order to pursue a personal or group goal.
Governments as Protectors of Social Stability
What must be understood is that governments are protectors of their citizens in that their main purpose is to ensure the continued existence of the country and the stability of society.
It is due to this role that governments play that in order to ensure social stability various laws and acts are usually implemented which control certain freedoms in order to ensure continued peace and stability.
This explains why certain acts created to limit the Freedom of Speech have been imposed in various cases in U.S. history due to the need to limit the possible destabilizing effects that the Freedom of Speech can bring on a case to case basis.
Based on this it can be said that while free speech can help in creating a progressive society uncontrolled free speech acts as a destructive force that can incite hate, anger and violence which as a result requires it to be limited to certain justifiable boundaries.
Justifying the Limitation of Free Speech
As mentioned earlier, free speech can either act as a great instrument for progressive social change or violent social consequences depending on its use. Limitations to free speech should thus be created in terms of their intended social consequences and be justifiable rather than a generalized limitation on certain topics.
For example the protest of the Westboro Baptist church members at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Mathew Synder should have been prevented due to the intended social consequence of creating discrimination against homosexual groups (Hines, 1).
The purpose of such a protest was obviously to continue to propagate the idea of hate and bias against the homosexual population and as such can be considered an abuse of an inherent right.
Similarly the portrayal of President Obama as a chimpanzee being shot in a recently published newspaper article is equally an abuse of rights since it directly connects to the various events suffered by the African American people that constitute racial prejudice and discrimination (Delonas, 1).
What must be understood is that while there are various critics who state that the right to free speech should be defended the fact remains that its utilization as a platform for the spread of chaotic and hateful ideas prevents it from becoming a right that doesn’t need to be limited.
Allowing the uncontrolled spread of socially damaging ideas and causes not only creates societal destabilization as seen in the various cases in the Middle East but incites various groups to spread hate filled messages which do not have any positive effect on society.
Free Speech as a Powerful Tool for Change
What must be understood is that speech is a powerful tool for change; it can start profound social and political changes within a nation or even society as a whole which at times is detrimental towards prospective goals set by governments.
For example, the recent revolution in Egypt which toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak was itself caused by the power of speech inciting the masses towards revolution (Scaliger, 15).
In fact the current changes happening in the Middle East today are a direct result of the ideas carried by the power speech from country to country resulting in revolutions which have toppled numerous long time government regimes.
The power of speech has also been known to exact social change wherein the “Green Movement” has started changes in behaviors attributed towards greater awareness for environmental problems, environmental care and the need to use methods of resource conservation.
From this it can be seen that the power of speech is truly profound however based on the example of Egypt and the Middle East it can be a cause for concern for various governments since uncontrolled free speech can and will result in actions which may disrupt various plans that the government has set into motion.
Justifying the need for Free Speech
The fact is the Freedom of Speech, in its ideal form, acts as an integral component in a check and balances system that ensures that the government acts for the benefit of the public.
By ensuring that important public issues such as war, economic rights and other societal issues are allowed to be discussed openly and without censorship this in effect guides public opinion either for or against particular government mandates or actions.
This limits the ability of the government to act on various whims and interests since it must always take public opinion into consideration before it accomplishes certain actions. This in effect creates a balanced system wherein the government continues to be accountable to the people through the use of the Freedom of Speech.
For example, legislation in the U.S. preventing various offshore drilling activities was actually brought about through the “Green Movement” and mass public opinion against the possible environmental damage it would cause.
Not All Aspects of Free Speech Are Socially Beneficial
What must be understood though is that certain limitations must be put into effect on particular aspects of the Freedom of Speech since not all activities created through it can be deemed as socially beneficial.
Due to its role as a poretector of societal stability the government has the responsibility to ensure that elements which destabilize society are limited in order to ensure the propagation of social harmony.
For example, the case of the arrest of the Ku Klux Kan leader in the Brandenburg v. Ohio case is a clear example of the government performing its role as a social protector by limiting actions (racial hatred) that creates strife and destabilization in society (Peck, 1).
It is based on cases such as this that certain justifiable limitations on the Freedom of Speech can be implemented so long as they are meant to prevent the spread of socially destabilizing messages of hatred, bias and anger.
Based on the facts presented it can be seen that the Freedom of Speech is an essential concept to society since it acts as a platform of not only the free exchange of information, ideas and concepts but also as an integral part of a checks and balances system between society and the government.
What must be understood though is that Freedom of Speech can easily be abused in order to spread messages detrimental towards continued societal harmony.
It is due to this that the government, acting as a protector of societal stability, needs to impose certain justifiable limitations on the utilization of the Freedom of Speech in order to ensure that any action incited by free speech does not damage the current peaceful societal structure we enjoy today.
Delonas, Sean.“ New York Post cartoon.” blogs.timeslive.co.za. Web.
Hines, Debbie.“Free Speech is Superior to a Family’s Right to Privacy”. Opednews. Web.
Peck, Robert.“ The First Amendment & Advocacy of Violence.” firstamendmentcenter.com. Web.
Scaliger, Charles. “EGYPT’S PRESENT PATH.” New American. 27.7 (2011): 15. MasterFILE Complete. EBSCO. Web.
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