Freedom of Speech?

April 19, 2011
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Few countries will allow for something offensive to be published without consequence. However, an American’s first amendment right to free speech allows for his or her mouth to open and spew whatever he or she pleases, offensive or not. If an American journalist believes a certain government official’s political performance is subpar, she has the opportunity to write a story criticizing his policies without being punished for speaking out against the government. The same politician has his own right to give radical speeches and lectures to the American public, despite the anger he is sure to instill in those who disagree with him. He will not be reprimanded by the government for what he has to say, and those who disagree with him, like the journalist, will be allowed to keep their opposing opinions.

In countries like China or Russia, however, the journalist’s piece never would have had the chance to be published because she would not be allowed to speak out against a government official. She would be jailed (or worse) for having the audacity to question the government. Any member of the public equally bold enough to speak out would be silenced as well. Even in Canada, if one was to say something potentially offensive, he or she could be fined. Americans would not have to worry about such harsh consequences for their thoughts or opinions. This is one of many reasons why America is great.

Freedom of speech and freedom to have beliefs different than others may not always be a positive thing, though, especially in an educational environment such as college or high school. I once was assigned to write a paper on global warming, and my teacher was impossibly close-minded on the subject. She was convinced global warming was a real threat caused by man and was oblivious to any other alternative. I had an opposing opinion, so I wrote my paper presenting information which disproved her beliefs. The information wasn’t necessarily wrong, yet she gave me a near-failing grade. In this situation, I had no freedom of speech. I had the freedom to keep my mouth shut or modify my opinions to fit hers.

The dismal grade I received on that essay not only offended me, but it also piqued my interest. I needed to know if every teacher would grade a paper debunking global warming harshly, so my best friend and I devised a plan. She would write an essay on the same topic with the same information presented and hand it in to a teacher who does not believe in global warming. Her paper received the highest grade in her class. I was shocked and appalled to find something as trivial as political beliefs could alter one’s grade so drastically. What about our first amendment rights? Are students stripped of their convictions the moment they enter an educational facility simply because they might offend their teachers?

If such an absurd case is true, it almost feels as if our first amendment rights have hidden, dark undertones. In fact, those dark undertones can be found in a familiar phrase told to suspected criminals as they are being arrested. They have the right to remain silent. Fortunately for the politician and the journalist, they can continue with their respective crusades until they break the law.

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