Freedom of speech is very important to American citizens, culture, and politics. The overwhelming majority of people believe that the state should not limit the ability of citizens to express their opinions in public places, in the press, and on the Internet. Americans are sure that the right to express their views is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked, “the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of American democracy, which makes it almost impossible to make it a crime.
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For example, in 1964, one of the racist Ku Klux Klan organization leaders was arrested for the propaganda of violence, where his speech at the rally was filmed. He talked about revenge against African Americans and Jews. The Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s ability to make this speech is protected by the Constitution. The decision was motivated by the fact that there is a distinction between speech, which just states or describes the criminal acts, and speech, which directly calls to the action of crime. Hence, if someone makes a speech in front of a crowd gathered at a particular spot and calls for the burning of this building, this can be punishable. Much criticism of existing rules, laws, and social institutions involves statements that may be perceived as encouraging illegal actions. People should be able to freely express these views as long as they do it within the Constitution.
In 1960, the New York Times ran an ad in support of the Civil Rights Movement condemning the actions of the Montgomery police in the state of Alabama. The majority of the charges in the ad were patently untrue, and Montgomery’s director of public safety filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper. Despite the fraudulent assertions, the Supreme Court found that the journal was legally protected since it had published false information unknowingly. The decision taken as a result of the consideration of this case became an important precedent. “Conscientious” or even if the information is untrue, inadvertent inaccuracies in reports about authorities must be protected by the Constitution. Otherwise, citizens will not have the opportunity to criticize government officials.
In 1974, a 19-year-old Paul Cohen was arrested for walking into a California courthouse wearing an obscene jacket to protest conscription. The lower court ruled that Cohen had the right to oppose conscription but was not entitled to display obscene inscriptions in a public place. The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court clarified that people are free to choose their words. Even if the words are furious and insulting, anger or offensiveness can be a vital aspect of the message by itself. The main challenge in making the hateful or “wrong” speech a crime is proving that the speech is a direct call for criminal activity. Otherwise, there is the freedom to express in any possible way.
Today in the United States, the right to freely speak is being questioned. People have actually been led to self-censorship, creating the need, especially for persons of influence, to publicly, including on social networks, express their opinions in support of certain social movements. The main thing that happened in the United States is the takeover of various media – print, radio, and television – by large corporations. Before, 50 years ago, the newspapers belonged to different people or families, which ensured the presence of a variety of opinions in the information field. In addition, providing information itself was the purpose of the media. When it became a property of a small group of people, it began to be seen as an instrument of influence and a source of income. As for social networks, they have become the means of suppressing free thinking due to the fact that they massively popularize people, who express the “right” point of view. Hence, nowadays, the right to freely speak is being distorted and lost its original meaning and value.