First Amendment Rights Essay, Research Paper
On June 21, 1788 Congress ratified the US constitution. This historic document contained the powers that congress would have under this democratic government. The first amendment specifically details several powers that would be excluded from this list. The first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 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.” In other words, this amendment gave any citizen of the United States the right to free speech, freedom to practice any religion they choose without fear of persecution, the right to freedom of the press, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to petition for a change in government. No where in the constitution does it say these rights only apply outside institutions. Yet, in our society today many types of institutions directly violate our first amendment rights without any penalty. One of the more obvious of these institutions are schools. Many of the schools are even funded by the government. In school, if a student utters anything that a teacher could perceive as being disrespectful, that student is subject to disciplinary action. While this seems well and good, it contains two major faults. First, it brings the teacher’s judgment into play. This could allow a teacher to target certain students by holding them to different standards. The second fault is it violates the first amendment. This student, under the constitution, is allowed to express himself through his words, which is what he has done. His comments may not have even been directed toward the teacher. Yet, the school punishes him for this. The school has directly violated his constitutional rights. Another example are obscenities. While they are vulgar students still have a right to say them. Once again if any student utters an obscenity, whether it was directed towards a teacher, another student, or is simply overheard by a teacher, that student is punished for it. While I do not believe that obscenities should be used at any time, this does not mean our right to say what we want, obscene or not, to should be withheld from us.
I feel another element of the first amendment is being violated in school. When students enroll in a public school, they enroll knowing they will not be forced to worship any religion. This is because public schools are funded by the government and there must be a separation of church and state. Although recently I believe this has gone too far. A public school guarantees that a student will not be FORCED to worship or pray. Nowhere does it say that a student cannot worship or pray by his or herself. I have read many newspaper articles about a student or a teacher at a local public school who was punished because they displayed some sort of religion. This public school is a government institution and it is violating its members’ rights. A public school is supposed to offer freedom to choose what religion to worship. It is not supposed to be an area of the complete lack of religion.
Another area of society in which first amendment rights are being violated lie in censorship. Recently, several musicians have come under fire for the content that in their lyrics. Activists have lobbied congress to pass censorship laws that would either, censor this material, or completely ban it from the shelves simply because they disagree with it. The lobbyists are trying to convince congress that this music will corrupt the people who choose to listen to it. I have watched some of the proceedings on CNN. The lobbyists were bringing up several extremely, localized events. Events in which ignorant individuals acted on something they believed the artist was telling them was okay. In most of these cases the offenders were mentally unstable to begin with. They also brought up the fact that young children were listening to music that they should not be listening to. Pointing out that this corrupts the children and causes them to be violent. Is it the musicians fault that the parents of these children allow them to buy the music? They argued that the parents did not know they had it. Once again, it is no the musicians fault that the said parents are not taking an active enough roll in their child s life to know what kind of music they listen to. They then claimed that the parents did not know what kind of material was on the CD, yet if any CD contains possibly offensive material on it a parental advisor sticker is printed on the case. This brings to mind a certain political cartoon I read. It deals with the basis of the first amendment rights and borrows a line from the enlightenment thinker, Voltaire. The subject, obviously from the late seventeen hundred s, it depicted shouting “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the DEATH your right to say it”. The other half of the cartoon depicted our former president, Bill Clinton, saying “Can t We shut these people up? This cartoon displays the differences in values of the American people at the beginning of the country, and today. I think it is quite obvious what the author of this cartoon is trying to say. He is trying to convey that the early Americans appreciated their rights much more than we do today. Yet we consider ourselves more advanced. I believe we have lost the respect for our rights. Those early Americans had to fight to obtain those rights. They knew what it took to win them. Today we take for granted these same rights and I feel it is a tragedy.
Another place where first amendment rights are threatened is the Internet. There are petitions to censor the Internet. Most notably hate group sites. I do not subscribe to the views of racial supremacy groups, It is my opinion they should be disbanded. But while they exist they have the right to voice their opinion. I think the Internet is a much better way for them to do it. The reason being that only people who wish to view their message will be subjected to it.. Their other options expose new people to their views and could lead to new members. If they were to hold a rally, it would most likely be covered by the local news and the groups would get even more exposure.
Hate sites are not the only places on the Internet that people would like to be censored, pornography is also a major area of concern. While revolting, it is a large business where many people earn money. We should not judge them on how they make their living. It is my opinion that if you disagree with the material it is your choice not to view it.
Freedom of speech and of the press are not the only first amendment rights that are being violated. The right to peaceful assembly has been violated often. The past decade has been a time of enhanced sense of duty. More and more people are standing up for events they find to be unjust. They voice their opinions through demonstrations. If this happens in a public place they can be arrested. One of the more famous examples of this is the Kent State University incident. Many students gathered to protest the United States involvement in the Vietnam war. They were doing nothing violent in any sense of the word. The national guard gave the order for the students to disperse. When the students refused, the guards responded with tear gas. The wind altered the path of the gas. The guards changed formations causing the students to retreat. Then the guard began thirteen seconds of gunfire that killed four, paralyzed one, and wounded eight others. This whole tragedy could have been avoided if the demonstrators had been allowed their first amendment rights.
In this politically correct society of ours, the basics seem to have been lost. People fought and died to win these rights, yet others try to take them away again. It is the obligation of the American Citizens to ensure that our rights are respected and not violated by anyone. The founders of this country believed these rights to be unalienable and a very important parts of a citizens life. We as Americans should feel the same way.