Free Speech NEEDS To Be Less Restrictive

BLOG PICby Liesel Hansen

I use to walk around the south side of Omaha quite a bit; it was a pleasant get away from the monotony of modern day suburbia. The smell of Mexican food floated through the air, while the sounds of salsa music and children laughing surrounded me. Then one day while walking, I turned the corner to get to my car, things seemed to come to a halt, and all I heard was a mother screaming “STOP!” I looked over at the scene and saw a boy, no older than 19, being beat within inches of his life. The Boy, Elise, was being beat by a police officer. Elise’s mother kept yelling out that her son had not committed a crime, but the officer calmly replied, while on top of her son, that indeed he had. Elise had reportedly yelled at a cop whom he had recognized as the officer who shot his friend, causing this officer to resort to the violence that was being played out in front of me. Feeling powerless to help, I dropped my head and kept on walking, hatred stirring in my mind, and knowing better than to open my mouth.

Part of the reason we see more stories like Elise’s are due to laws contained in the Patriot Act of 2001 and Military Commissions Act of 2006. The laws within the acts are loosely defined, and allow for excessive use of force by public employees to enforce nonspecific, unlawful laws regarding free speech seen as terrorism. These government laws can affect citizen’s freedom of speech. They have at times, enabled police enforcement to employ hostile tactics resulting in unlawful arrests. The increase in violence is regularly attributed to the authority of the police that was greatly expanded under the Patriot Act, also included was the ability for the police to use any measure of force which they deemed necessary to stop an up rise caused by a citizen seen as terrorism (Patriot Act Sec. 802). However there is no definition of what use of force is in the act, and no definition on when force is acceptable to use, this is all left up to the officers responding to the scene. Often enough, these loop holes causes vigorous violations against civilian’s freedom of speech when the officer does not agree with what a citizen has said or videotaped.  This means US citizens are losing the right to free speech due to unconstitutional laws such as the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act that are aimed against civilians and in favor of the government. This is why the United States Congress should amend or eradicate laws that, in any way, obstruct the freedom of speech of American citizens.

The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as, “. . . intimidate[ing] or coerc[ing] a civilian population; (ii) . . .  influenc[ing] the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) affect[ing] the conduct of a government. . . “(Sec. 1005). Of these actions included in the domestic terrorism definition, not one is expanded on, leaving the definition up to interpretation. This elucidation of the law is where the decrease in free speech comes from, because there is no official ruling on what constitutes as intimidation or coercion. Many protesters and free thinkers are arrested, because almost anything could be seen as intimidating or coercing. Elise was beaten, and then arrested, because the officer might have been intimidated by him somehow, or maybe he flat out did not like what he heard. This is unlawful and needs to be changed. Along with the Patriot Act is the Military Commissions Act, which causes even more confusion on what constitutes as domestic terrorism.

The Military Commissions Act states, “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who . . . intentionally engages in an act that evinces a wanton disregard for human life in a manner calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government or civilian population by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct . . .” (Sec. 950t). Stating the same definition in different wording, the Military Commissions Act, also leaves domestic terrorism up to interpretation. Nowhere in the act does it expand on what might be seen as retaliation against the government. This is a problem. Retaliation could be seen as a simple boycott of government ran transportation, or possibly a peaceful protest against a government issue. These laws together force American citizens that disagree with the government on an issue to fear the government and its employees, not knowing if something they say could land them in jail, or worse.

Contrary to American culture’s belief, the limit of free speech is not due to the spike in bullying or teenage suicide. This decline of free speech is to protect the government employees meant to serve the American people. Anthony Martin, an esteemed political author, describes a statement made by Elena Kagan who is a Supreme Court Judge. Kagan says, “[The] Right to have free speech can be revoked by the government if the government can find ‘proper motive’ behind the speech. . . If this speech incited a crime the person should be punished and the text taken down or erased” (qdt. par. 7). The problem with the Justice’s view; is that speech is not restricted in the First Amendment. Even though the effects of hateful or stirring language can be seen as wrong, and could cause a crime, the Constitution is direct when it states that speech cannot be constrained for any reason. This viewpoint by a Supreme Court Justice is why laws in unison with the Patriot and Military Commissions Act need to be removed immediately. If not, citizens will be charged, unlawfully for freely speaking, by judges across the nation because of Kagan, and the laws that support her viewpoint.

The American Government was built on the belief that equality shall reign over all, and all citizens have equivalent rights within the Constitution. The Constitution was made by we the people and it should serve we the people. If America cannot uphold the Constitution, and allow unrestricted free speech it can no longer claim to be a democratic state. Change must happen, but it is up to the citizens of the United States to make it happen by proposing revisions to the laws in place.

 Works Cited

“Constitutional Topic: The First Amendment.” USConstitution. 9/25/1789. Web.03 Mar. 2014.

House of Representatives, United States. Homeland Security. Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001. Washington D.C: Congress, 2001. Web. 2 February. 2014.

—. United States. Military Commissions Act of 2006. Washington D.C: Congress, 2006. Web. 20 February. 2014.

Martin, Anthony. “Kagan Wrote That Government Can Restrict Free Speech.” Examiner . Examiner, 2010. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

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9 thoughts on “Free Speech NEEDS To Be Less Restrictive

  1. I enjoyed reading the factual side of your blog, but as for the story, you were not there to hear what the young guy said to the officer. I think my problem is everyone always wants to blame the police officers when without them we would have as much uprising as you talk about having because of the law. I question the consequences of eradicating these laws. What about groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, what are your views on the way they go about using their freedom of speech?

  2. It was good to read pieces of the legislation on freedom of speech. I think people in general need to be more aware of what legislation dictates on regulation of free speech. You are right that people should be able to share their opinions and not be discriminated against or abused because of their views. However, I think removing all regulations on free speech could have serious negative consequences. What about laws against libel and slander? Those are forms of speech that are dishonest and harmful, and I think it’s great that there are laws that prohibit such actions.

  3. I hope we all will always have the option to voice our opinion, but to what extent? I am aware of my rights as an American citizen and use them regularly. In fact by just typing these comments I am doing just that. When do we say enough is enough? Do we want our future kids being brought up in a society where they should be afraid of what they say? I hope they are aware of what they say and are prepared to face the consequences that come with the decisions they make.

  4. I think that while we do have some degree of free speech, there will always be someone who says that people should not be allowed to say or do certain things.

  5. I agree with you, we should be able to say what we feel without being punished for it. But, I believe that some regulations for freedom of speech are necessary to keep everything and everyone in order; there needs to be boundaries on what can be said.

  6. In my opinion, I think that “freedom of speech” is taken way too far by some people. Yes, one can have an opinion and can voice it. But if it gets to the point where it is harming someone else, then that’s where the line needs to be drawn.

  7. I believe there should be regulations on free speech. Even though we are in an open society of free speech there are certain times when it may become harmful to people. Everyone needs to have rules and regulations so it doesn’t create chaos. One example is you cannot walk into a theater and yell fire because it could have a negative effect on people. I understand this is a slippery slope but I feel there are times when free speech must be regulated.

  8. while I agree with your views on being able to freely express ourselves, I also think it would be a problem if regulations are not put on free speech because there is a possibility that people will abuse the liberties that come with free speech.

  9. I agree with everyone else. Yes people have the right to say whatever they want but there needs to be restrictions. Without restrictions people will take it way too far and it will cause problems. You provided a great argument but overall I think there needs to be restrictions.

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