Amendment Number 1


No other democratic society in the world permits personal freedoms to the
degree of the United States of America. Within the last sixty years, American
courts, especially the Supreme Court, have developed a set of legal doctrines
that thoroughly protect all forms of the freedom of expression. When it comes to
evaluating the degree to which we take advantage of the opportunity to express
our opinions, some members of society may be guilty of violating the bounds of
the First Amendment by publicly offending others through obscenity or racism.

Americans have developed a distinct disposition toward the freedom of expression
throughout history. The First Amendment clearly voices a great American respect
toward the freedom of religion. It also prevents the government from
"abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the
people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of
grievances." Since the early history of our country, the protection of
basic freedoms has been of the utmost importance to Americans. In Langston

Hughes' poem, "Freedom," he emphasizes the struggle to enjoy the
freedoms that he knows are rightfully his. He reflects the American desire for
freedom now when he says, "I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. I cannot
live on tomorrow's bread." He recognizes the need for freedom in its
entirety without compromise or fear. I think Langston Hughes captures the
essence of the American immigrants' quest for freedom in his poem,
"Freedom's Plow." He accurately describes American's as arriving with
nothing but dreams and building America with the hopes of finding greater
freedom or freedom for the first time. He depicts how people of all backgrounds
worked together for one cause: freedom. I selected Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
as a fictitious example of the evils of censorship in a world that is becoming
illiterate. In this book, the government convinces the public that book reading
is evil because it spreads harmful opinions and agitates people against the
government. The vast majority of people accept this censorship of expression
without question and are content to see and hear only the government's
propaganda. I found this disturbing yet realistic. Bradbury's hidden opposition
to this form of censorship was apparent throughout the book and finally
prevailed in the end when his main character rebelled against the practice of
burning books. Among the many forms of protests are pickets, strikes, public
speeches and rallies. Recently in New Jersey, more than a thousand community
activists rallied to draft a "human" budget that puts the needs of the
poor and handicapped as a top priority. Rallies are an effective means for
people to use their freedoms effectively to bring about change from the
government. Freedom of speech is constantly being challenged as is evidenced in
a recent court case where a Gloucester County school district censored reviews
of two R-rated movies from a school newspaper. Superior Court Judge, Robert E.

Francis ruled that the student's rights were violated under the state

Constitution. I feel this is a major break through for students' rights because
it limits editorial control of school newspapers by educators and allows
students to print what they feel is important. A newly proposed bill (A-557)
would prevent school officials from controlling the content of student
publications. Critics of the bill feel that "student journalists may be too
young to understand the responsibilities that come with free speech." This
is a valid point; however, it would provide an excellent opportunity for them to
learn about their First Amendment rights that guarantees free speech and freedom
of the press. In his commencement address to Monmouth College graduates,

Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School defended the broad right to free
speech. He stated, "My message to you graduates is to assert your rights,
to use them responsibly and boldly, to oppose racism, to oppose sexism, to
oppose homophobia and bigotry of all kinds and to do so within the spirit of the

First Amendment, not by creating an exception to it." I agree that one
should feel free to speak openly as long as it does not directly or indirectly
lead to the harm of others. One of the more controversial issues was the recent

2 Live Crew incident involving obscenity in rap music. Their record, "As

Nasty as They Wanna Be," was ruled obscene in federal court. They were
acquitted of the charges and quickly became a free speech martyr. Although many
stores pulled the album, over two million copies sold as a result of the
incident. I feel that in this case the principles of free speech have been
abused because young children can purchase and listen to this obscene music. The

American flag, symbol of our country's history and patriotism, has also become a
topic of controversy. The controversy was over the right to burn the flag
without punishment. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan offered the response
that "if there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is
that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because
society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." Burning the flag
is considered a form of symbolic speech and therefore is protected under the

First Amendment. As in the 2 Live Crew case, I feel that we are protecting the
wrong people in this case. The minority is given precedence at the sacrifice of
the majority. The book, American Voices, is a collection of essays on the
freedom of speech and censorship. I chose to put this collection of essays into
my book because they represent the strong central theme of freedom of expression
as the cornerstone of American government, culture and life. Each essay strongly
defends a case for free commercial speech. Each was generally in favor of fewer
limitations on freedom of expression. The American voice on freedom has been
shaped throughout the course of history by the initial democratic notions of the
immigrants to the same desire for greater freedom that we have today. The
freedom of speech has constantly been challenged and will continue to be
challenged in the future. It is important that we learn from the precedented
cases of the past of our constitutionally protected rights so that in the future
authority will not violate our freedoms or oppress our liberty. Ever since
colonial times, the protection of personal freedoms in the United States has
been significantly important. Even in the early stages of American history there
was an urge to put legally protected freedoms into written government documents.

The result was the drafting of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the

Bill of Rights, by James Madison. The applications of the personal freedoms
described in the Bill of Rights, particularly the freedom of speech, have been
challenged repeatedly in American courts of law and elsewhere. These incidents
and challenges of authority reflect the defensive American attitude toward the
ever important freedom of expression and the growing significance of personal
rights throughout American history. In Colonial America, members of diverse
nationalities had opposing views on government, religion, and other subjects of
interest. Serious confrontations were prevented because of the vast lands that
separated groups of varying opinions. A person could easily settle in with other
like believers and be untouched by the prejudices and oppression of others. For
this reason, Unitarians avoided Anglican or Puritan communities. Quakers and

Anabaptists were confined to Pennsylvania and Rhode Island while Catholics were
mainly concentrated in Maryland. As the United States grew larger and larger,
these diverse groups were forced to live together. This may have caused
individual liberties to be violated because of the distrust and hostile feelings
between ethnic and religious groups. Most of the initial assemblies among the
colonies considered themselves immune from criticism. They actually issued
warrants of arrest, interrogated, fined, and imprisoned anyone accused of
libeling the assembly as a whole or any of its members. Many people were tracked
down for writing or speaking works of offense. The first assembly to meet in

America, the Virginia House of Burgesses, stripped Captain Henry Spellman of his
rank when he was found guilty of "treasonable words." Even in the most
tolerant colonies, printing was strictly regulated. The press of William

Bradford was seized by the government when he printed up a copy of the colony's
charter. He was charged with seditious libel and spent more than a year in
prison. A more famous incident was the trial of John Peter Zenger which
established the principle of a free press. In his newspaper he published
satirical ballads regarding William Cosby, the unpopular governor, and his
council. His media was described "as having in them many things tending to
raise seditions and tumults among the people of this province, and to fill their
minds with a contempt for his majesty's government." The grand jury did not
indict Zenger and the General Assembly refused to take action. The defendant was
acquitted on the basis that in cases of libel the jury should judge both law and
the facts. James Alexander was the first colonial writer to develop a philosophy
on the freedom of speech. He founded the American Philosophical Society and
masterminded the Zenger defense. Alexander's chief conviction was "Freedom
of speech is a principal pillar in a free government: when this support is taken
away, the constitution is dissolved and tyranny is erected on its ruins."

The original Constitution did not contain a bill of rights because the
convention delegates felt that individual rights were in no danger and would be
protected by the states. However, the lack of a bill of rights was the strongest
objection to the ratification of the Constitution. Less than a decade after the

Bill of Rights had been adopted it met its first serious challenge. In 1798,
there was a threat of war with France and thousands of French refugees were
living in the United States. Many radicals supported the French cause and were
considered "incompatible with social order." This hysteria led

Congress to enact several alien and sedition laws. One law forbade the
publication of false, scandalous or malicious writing against the government,

Congress or the President. The penalty for this crime was a $2,000 fine and two
years in prison. The public was enraged at these laws. Thomas Jefferson and

James Madison pleaded for freedom of speech and the press. The alien and
sedition laws became a prime issue in the presidential election of 1800. Soon
after Jefferson was elected, the Sedition Act expired and those who had been
convicted under it were immediately pardoned. The next attack on the First

Amendment occurred in 1835. President Andrew Jackson proposed a law that would
prohibit the use of mail for "incendiary publications intended to instigate
the slaves to insurrection." John C. Calhoun of South Carolina led a
special committee that opposed the proposal on grounds that it conflicted with
the First Amendment. The proposal was defeated because it was a form of
censorship. The next violation of the principles contained in the First

Amendment came on January 2, 1920. Under the direction of A. Mitchell Palmer,

Woodrow Wilson's Attorney General, about 500 FBI agents and police raided 3,000

Russians and other European immigrants, looking for Communists to deport. The
victims were arrested without warrants, homes were ransacked, personal property
was seized, and they were hauled off to jail. An even more vicious episode was
known as "McCarthyism," an incident in the 1950's when Senator Joseph

R. McCarthy of Wisconsin proclaimed that the federal government had been
thoroughly infiltrated by Communist agents. His attacks on United States
information libraries abroad led to the burning of some books accused of being

Communist propaganda. Reduced congressional support caused many librarians to
resign and the closing of libraries. On the morning of December 16, 1965,
thirteen year old Mary Beth Tinker went to school in Des Moines, Iowa. She and
her fifteen year old brother, John, had decided to wear black armbands as a
protest to the Vietnam War. In advance to their arrival, the principal had
decided that any student wearing an arm- band would be told to remove it,
stating that, "The schools are no place for demonstrations." If the
student refused, he would be suspended until the armband was permanently
removed. On December 16, the Tinkers refused to remove their armbands. They were
suspended and did not return to school until after January 1, when by a previous
decision the protest had ended. The students brought suit in federal court to
confirm their First Amendment right to wear the black armbands. They lost in The

Federal District Court on grounds that this type of symbolic expression might
disturb school discipline. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth

Circuit was divided equally (4-4) so the decision remained unchanged. On

February 24, 1969, the United States Supreme Court decided in the students'
favor by a vote of 7 to 2. The Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District
decision was a landmark case for students' rights and liberties. Speaking for
the majority of the Court, Justice Abe Fortas wrote, "It can hardly be
argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to
freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." During the
sixties and early seventies a new wave of court battles for First Amendment
freedoms emerged. The freedom of speech was recognized as a vital element in a
democratic society. Censorship and the infringement of First Amendment rights,
especially among students and their newspapers, could not and would not be
tolerated. American citizens took a firm stand against the government and
authority at important times when they could have yielded to the oppressive
violations of their rights.

Bibliography
"Amendments
to the Constitution." Collier's Encyclopedia. 1965 ed. American Voices. New

York: Phillip Morris, 1987. Bollinger, Lee. C. The Tolerant Society. New York:

Oxford University Press, 1986. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York:

Ballantine Books, 1973. Bugman, Cathy. "Monmouth Grads Hear Top Lawyer

Defend Broad Right to Free Speech." The Star Ledger, 27 May 1991: A-9.

First Freedom Today, The. Chicago: American Library Association, 1984. Gates,

David. "The Importance of Being Nasty." Newsweek, 2 July 1990: 52.

Hentoff, Nat. The First Freedom. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1980. Hughes,

Langston. The Panther and the Lash. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1967.

Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1981.

Isaacson, Walter. "O'er the Land of the Free." Time, 3 July 1989:

14-15. Kalven, Harry, Jr. A Worthy Tradition. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Leusner, Donna. "Social Services Advocates Rally for 'Human' Touch in State

Budget." The Star Ledger, 9 April 1991: A-3. McHugh, Bob. "'Free

Speech' Moves for School Newspapers." The Star Ledger, 4 May 1991: A-3.
"Student Wins Freedom of Speech Case." Daily Record, 24 April 1991