A new age for free speech

The media and government have taken on the role of prosecuting those who use their free speech.

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen. – Tommy Smothers. In defining freedom of speech, it appears that the government and the media have taken on this responsibility. This tells the public that there is free speech but with conditions. The government controls speech with free speech zones, permits for protesting, time, place and manner constraints, all of these factors impede on the very right to free speech. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, criticism of the government and avocation of unpopular ideas. These are ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy. Regardless of one’s stance on an issue, as a citizen you are afforded the right to free speech and expression. However, when utilized, the media determines who will be heard and or vilify those they disagree with.

There are several cases in recent news that have raised issues on free speech. Most recently the campaign for presidency has brought up many issues regarding free speech. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s comment about her trip to Bosnia caused a backlash on her campaign. Rev. Jeremiah Wright was utilizing his right to free speech when he said, “G-d d-mn America,” and “the United States is the blame for 9/11.” The media has taken on the charge of persecuting Wright for those comments and then consistently tying those comments to presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama. The media has placed so much attention on the reverend’s past sermons that Obama had to distance himself from his pastor’s words. Obama stated, “While Rev. Wright’s statements have pained and angered me, I believe that Americans will judge me not on the basis of what someone else said, but on the basis of who I am and what I believe in – on my values, judgment and experience to be president of the United States.” Obama was attacked because he was associated to the inflammatory words of another individual – his pastor. Wright has been attacked because he spoke against the government. Most recently Sen. John McCain has asked the North Carolina GOP not to run the television ad that continues to persecute Wright. McCain said that the ad “degrades our civics and distracts us from the very real differences we have with the Democrats. In the strongest terms, I implore you to not run this advertisement.” The ad scrutinizes Wright and his association with Obama stating that the Senator is “too extreme” for North Carolina and the sermons of his pastor continue to prove the point. The media has decided to continue to persecute Wright simply because he spoke against the government.

All Americans should have the right to speak freely without persecution as in the cases of the McCarthy Era, the Civil Rights Movement and even today with the Patriot Act. The fight for freedom of speech has a long history. This is a country where people were kidnapped, tarred and feathered for advocating their free speech. In 1791, the First Amendment was established to prohibit Congress from making laws that impeded our freedoms of religion, speech, the press and the right to assemble.

Since then, there have been exceptions to our right to free speech. The Sedition Act of 1918 criminalized “disloyal,” “scurrilous” or “abusive” language against the government. It seems that in today’s society we do not have free speech unless it is controlled speech. The government controls when and where free speech can be exercised. Speaking is supposed to be a freedom. Even the media has taken on the role of prosecuting those who use their free speech. Perhaps this is new age persecution of free speech. Instead of being tarred and feathered people are publicly prosecuted by the media and limited by the government.

JoAnna Brown is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]