January 23, 2015
The First Amendment is a sacred addition to the United State’s Constitution. Of the founding fathers, James Madison knew certain rights needed to be guaranteed. An original draft of 20 rights were presented before the first United States Congress. After condensing this into 12, only ten were ratified by the states. Thus, the Bill of Rights was born. There is almost no recorded debate in the House and Senate about the ratification of the First Amendment, meaning the original text is the basis of the law. Freedom of Speech causes most conflicts today. However, this undoubtedly shows that these freedoms are vital to America. These freedoms include Religion, Assembly, Association, Speech and Press. The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause limit the government’s ability to declare a religion, as well as protect citizens’ right to believe in any preferred religion. The right to peaceably assemble and associate guarantee citizens the right to organize and protest the government. These protections ensure that all people can join together for a peaceful cause or purpose. Their method of voicing their views are protected by the last two rights. The Freedoms of Speech and Press go hand-in-hand in many cases. The protection of the right to say and express one’s opinion in verbal, written or otherwise manner is key to American culture. Unsurprisingly, there are limitations to this. As one cannot shout, “Fire!” in a theater, inciting a panic, they also cannot tweet about an assassination attempt on the President. In schools, according to Tinker v. Des Moines, students’ speech is limited. Speech and Press are the peanut butter and jelly of newspapers and journalists worldwide. With these Rights protected by the Constitution, only the government is barred from persecuting one’s words. Private businesses and peoples’ reactions to one’s words, however, are a different story. The world renowned magazine, Charlie Hebdo, known for its political cartoons and critical speech, had their Freedoms of Speech and Press violated by citizens. CNN reports that a group of three men, born and raised in France, violently attacked and murdered 12 people, including Stephane Charbonnier, the editorial director, and the rest of the editorial board of the ‘Irresponsible Magazine.’ Their motives behind the attack were not because they were Muslim, and it is irresponsible to blame all Muslims for the actions of three men. It is equivalent to blaming all Christians for the actions of the Klu Klux Klan. Extremists behave violently because of numerous societal factors. Reducing their behavior to their religion only enforces harmful stereotypes. These attacks should give similar empathy and sympathy to the American populous as did the Terror Attack of 9/11. Terror is terror in the smallest of forms. Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish any sort of cartoon, article, etc. as the Freedom of Expression is a Universal Human Right, declared by the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948. The men who were offended by the cartoon had no justifiable right to murder merely because they disagreed with said cartoon.
Putting the United States under the microscope, there are obvious places where the First Amendment protects certain people. These instances have given liberties to groups for somewhat controversial topics. Fox News, Entertainment is not legally required to present factual information, as the Florida Court of Appeals ruled in 2003. It is their constitutional right under the First Amendment to do this. The Westboro Baptist Church has the right to protest American Soldiers’ funerals and gay rights parades, and they have yet to be tear gassed or attacked. Following the Grand Jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown shooting, a series of protests resurged across the nation. From Oakland, CA to Bloomington, MN, from Ferguson, MO to Selma, AL protesters demanding police accountability have sparked a national debate. Questions arise of the justice system and officer involved shootings. Have civil rights and liberties been put second to ‘National Security’ and ‘Officer Safety’? Or has racism clouded the heart of American society? The 2014 Ferguson Unrest reveals that many Americans believe there needs to be a change. These assembles voice their opinion within the guarantees of the First Amendment. The UN’s declaration of Basic Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights protect peaceful protesters and journalists. They protect the citizens of the United States. They protect students. They are here for a reason, and abridgments of any kind do not go unnoticed. Protests across the world show support for those violated. Mall Of America protests and marches on the capitals on Martin Luther King Day make this clear. Featured image from http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/11/28/ferguson-must-force-face-anti-blackness/pKVMpGxwUYpMDyHRWPln2M/story.html