Thursday, August 6, 2009

Freedom of Speech.

Perhaps few human rights have ever received the legal, political and social scrutiny of the concept of freedom of speech. This Country's Constitution, along with similar passages in the framework documents of other countries, addresses this basic right of citizens to express themselves through written and oral speech. The difficulty with enforcing this ideal of freedom of speech, however, lies with the definition of "free speech" and the rights of governments to restrict or censor potentially dangerous forms of speech.Freedom of speech in a legal sense, however, does not protect every single word ever uttered or written by individuals. The Constitution primarily guarantees that the government itself would not infringe on the rights of a "free press" to publish articles critical of the government. Citizens also has the right to "redress grievances," which means they could legally assemble in public areas and deliver speeches without fear of government reprisal.The concept of freedom of speech has continued to evolve since the days of Colonial rule. It is still illlegal for private citizens to express controversial or unpopular speech under most circumstances, which means a group cannot deliver speeches or publish material which denigrates another race or other targeted groups. The rules which govern freedom of speech must be applied equally, regardless of the quality or veracity of the speech itself.There are restrictions on the concept of freedom of speech, however. Certain words and images cannot be broadcast over publicly accessible airwaves, for example. The government still has the right to determine if a form of speech violates existing indecency or pornography laws. Any speech which could be considered provocative "fighting words" or a call to take immediate illegal action is not protected under freedom of speech laws. The idea of yelling "Fire!" falsely in a crowded theater falls under this concept of prohibited speech.The legal and governmental concept of freedom of speech does not necessarily apply between private citizens and publishers. The Constitution only restricts governmental interference with private expressions of free speech. A private publisher can still refuse to publish a controversial or hate-filled article, and a private owner of a web-based discussion can still remove objectionable posts unilaterally. While citizens may enjoy the benefits of freedom of speech, there is also the concept of "freedom from speech" which protects the general public from immoral or inflammatory forms of expression.Freedom of speech is an important human right, and one worth defending against threats of arbitrary governmental censorship or repression. With such freedom, however, does come great responsibility. Freedom of speech does allow controversial artists, and others to push the envelope of acceptable speech and artistic expression, but there should still be some safeguards in place to protect the general population from extreme forms of speech which violate community standards of decency.

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