by 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.
“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.